The next wave of ambitious Chinese car brands are set to launch in Australia from 2023, joining now-established offerings such as MG, LDV, GWM, Haval and BYD.
We already have a good gauge on plans this year from Chery, JAC Motor, and GWM’s Tank and Ora brands, but there’s another OEM with proposed Aussie plans that we’ve devoted less time to.
That brand is Aion, part of the sprawling Guangzhou Automobile Co, shortened to GAC Group, which is headquartered in Zhujiang New Town and listed on both Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges.
As with many Chinese OEMs, it has focused on joint-ventures with established marques, in this case Japanese ones. Active JVs include GAC Toyota, GAC Honda and GAC Mitsubishi, all made under license.
But as the Chinese government turns ever more to domestic brands and domestic consumption, GAC has branched out – not just with its own range of GAC-badged cars developed with what it gleaned from its JV partners, but via another sub-brand.
This sub-brand is Aion, and it’s here that we will get stuck in.
GAC Aion New Energy Automobile Co Ltd was founded on July 28, 2017 with a focus on ‘new energy’ vehicles, with a more premium skew. A chunk has since been taken public to fund R&D expenditure.
The company has been bullish about its export plans, and like many others sees Australia as the ideal pilot market – it’s close to China in the grand scheme, highly competitive and fragmented, and yet has a small enough scale that failure isn’t such a disaster.
Based on our discussions with those working behind the scenes, we expect to see the first Aion products to enter sale in Australia from the second half of 2024, with the brand to come on stream in earnest from 2025.
Like Tesla and Polestar, it’s expected to use a direct-to-consumer sales model rather than engaging with franchise dealer partners. This is an increasingly common approach from clean-slate EV brands.
At the time of writing GAC Aion advertised eight models at home in China, only some of which will be starters for Australia, in factory right-hand drive (something GAC Aion is still scaling).
Expected to be first off the mark is the youth-focused Aion Y Plus, a 4.5-metre long high-riding MPV that hit China in September 2022. This EV offers claimed range (on lenient Chinese testing) of between 430km and 610km depending on battery choice, with motor outputs of 150kW and 225Nm.
The other vehicle Aion expects to offer at or near launch is a new-generation SUV that’ll be a bit bigger than the Y Plus. Aion currently sells the LX Plus and V Plus in China, and we understand the Australian model will be a next-gen successor to both.
Headline acts from a branding perspective will be the GAC Aion Hyper GT and Hyper SSR.
The Hyper GT is a wild-looking fastback that rivals the Tesla Model 3, offering an incredibly slippery 0.19Cd aerodynamic rating, 250kW power rating, a 0-100km/h claim of 4 seconds, butterfly doors, and a 900V architecture. It even has LiDAR.
The company hopes that an updated version of this car, potentially including a dual-motor performance model, will come in RHD around 2025.
Finally, every brand needs a halo product – not one designed to sell in great volume but rather to serve as great marketing. For GAC Aion, this is the LHD-only Hyper SSR supercar.
The Aion Hyper SSR, which GAC dubs “China’s first supercar”, has been designed to set “a new benchmark for China’s auto industry” in terms of both performance and manufacturing.
The company reckons the hi-po EV accelerates from 0-100km/h in an insane 1.9s in top-spec guise, or 2.3s in entry-level form.
The e-motor with Porsche-style two-speed transmission pushes out a claimed 900kW (1225hp), which under full throttle “brings a strong push back feeling comparable to a rocket launch at 1.7G”.
The company also mentions the use of aviation tyre tech with low heat retention, and 900V silicon carbide chips that work 2.5-times faster while drawing less power.
GAC Aion also produces the sleek Camry-sized S Plus sedan, but given local tastes this seems less likely for us.
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