How to China EV

It is really intriguing to see, at which pace Electric Vehicle (EV) brands pop up – not just, but especially in China or with Chinese investor relationships. The biggest leap forward since the invention of the petrol engine is happening with the introduction of mass-production EV technology. In the case of China this is driven by one of the largest government investment plans of mankind’s history.

Over the course of the last few years, we followed a couple of these new players closely and  discovered common patterns. For them UX isn’t perceived just as “usability” anymore, but becomes a USP and actually part of the business model.

Setting up a new car brand is everything but an easy task though. You have to build a brand, product and a company at the same time. But how can you create awareness without a strong brand heritage? How can you  justify massive investments into a digital eco system without a product that already sells well? How do you create a holistic brand experience?

Julia Peglow summarized essential thoughts from two angles. The brand experts from Strichpunkt worked with the EV startup “Weltmeister” on their launch. Combined with icon incar’s market insights from a product perspective, a holistic picture about opportunities but also about the challenges is painted.

This article was first published in designreport, issue 4/2018

Enjoy reading!


Becoming Weltmeister


As universal mobility providers, automobile manufacturers want to score with new user experiences. First of all: young start-ups from China. But how does a completely new brand emerge in an industry steeped in tradition, which is currently undergoing enormous upheaval? A current example is the Chinese brand Weltmeister, which is not satisfied with just building electric cars.

Text: Julia Peglow

WM Motor EX5

China has a mobility problem. For this reason alone, the People’s Republic is to become the global number one in electromobility. According to a Volkswagen study, the market share of electric cars in China is expected to exceed 20 percent by 2025, more than in the USA and the EU. A potential billion-dollar market is emerging. Accordingly, the conditions for replacing more than just the engine in cars seem promising. With new digital connectivity services, the user experience also changes far beyond the pure driving experience. What starts long before departure and does not end when you get out, is dialing, ordering, connecting, sharing, renting, loading, paying, shopping and contacting friends. Mobility becomes a hub in one’s own lifestyle, connecting all areas of life.

Inventing a brand with a history
More than 300 start-ups are currently active on the Chinese market for electric vehicles. They all want to get one of the coveted state licenses and find investors – which is less difficult as large Chinese tech and telecommunications companies sense the opportunity to get their foot in the door of this future market. Florian Gulden, founder and managing director of icon incar, a design consultancy specializing in automotive UX, explains how the start-ups proceed: “First and foremost, all electric vehicle start-ups need a strong brand with a strong story in order to obtain the license and investors.” And how do you do that when your story is still a white sheet of paper? Gulden sees two possibilities. Quite classic: A super concept car is being built as a lighthouse project – this is what happened at the Chinese brand NIO or Faraday Future. The second way is a kind of shortcut to get to your own brand and story: to buy a venerable name with history, as happened with the recently – with Chinese money – revived German brand Borgward. The start-ups, according to Gulden, fought a real head-to-head race: “It’s only about being the first one on the market. Establish a strong brand and prototype in 24 months, build customer relationships and only then continuously improve the product”.

Becoming Weltmeister
Gulden’s words describe the path taken by the Chinese EV start-up WM Motors with its recently launched mobility brand Weltmeister. Freeman Shen, founder and CEO of WM and former Asia chief of Volvo, had caused a sensation in 2016 when he collected a billion dollars from investors such as Tencent and Baidu within a very short time and negotiated partnerships with Huawei and China Unicom. Shen has an ambitious goal: to solve China’s mobility problem.

His brand Weltmeister wants to be more than just an automobile manufacturer: it sees itself as a universal mobility service provider. As a first step, world champions presented the smart, electric SUV EX5 at the Beijing Motor Show in April this year, which will be available in three range variants from around 20,000 euros from autumn 2018. But this is only the beginning: in the logic of Weltmeister, the SUV, flanked by a networked community, represents a central entry point into a mobile lifestyle ecosystem. It is no coincidence that Tencent, one of the world champion investors, operates China’s largest social media platform WeChat with more than one billion users every day. If the strategy of linking vehicle and community is successful, world champions could take pole position in the Chinese EV market. So far, according to Shen, there have been 5,000 advance orders for the vehicle. The app ‘WM portal’, which presented Weltmeister at the Beijing Motor Show, turns out on closer inspection to be less of an access to a networked community, but rather a mobile website that was in use during the fair.

Purchased knowledge
Weltmeister – the German name may make you wonder in Germany. But above all, it is intended to underline the ambitious start-up’s high quality standards, as Chinese brands have not enjoyed the best reputation among Chinese customers for a long time. Their demands have also increased in the meantime: potential buyers attach more importance to quality and safety. And finally, the name sends a signal to the German automotive industry, certainly not unintentionally. The know-how required for success is purchased globally from highly specialized suppliers. Gulden describes the most important “border triangle”: “The engineering thinking comes from Germany, the Stuttgart and Munich area, software development and artificial intelligence from Silicon Valley, model making from Turin and Milan. The brand is what holds everything together. Or you’ll end up with something like a ‚Frankenstein’”.

The knowledge of how to construct a brand is also made in Germany. “Chinese companies love the German understanding of quality, especially in the areas of branding and design. Here they get solutions thought through to the last detail,” says Philipp Brune, Managing Director of agency Strichpunkt, describing his experience in China. The brand identity of Weltmeister, which is to convey the approach of a universal mobility service provider, comes from Strichpunkt. The Stuttgart-based company has developed a visual identity for the start-up in a fast-paced consulting process. At the centre is the logo, which is also available in animated form. It is flanked by the Noway font (in Latin and Chinese characters), a defined color scheme, image style and icon set as well as elements and application principles for user interface design on smartphones and desktops. Strichpunkt did not work on the interface in the vehicle; the HMI (Human-Machine-Interface) was designed by WM itself.
Strichpunkt says of itself that in developing its identity it should think not only in terms of business goals, but also strongly in terms of corporate culture. In a start-up, this has a strong identity-building effect from the outset. Brune explains: “Brand identity, corporate culture, the future understanding of roles in the market and the image must be developed from an integrated process.” In future, the brand values “networked, courageous and conscious” will describe the core of the positioning of world champions. The claim is “Always on.”

A pulsating logo should point to the future
But how does the user learn to understand and accept completely new products and services? How does a mobility brand communicate when it sells vehicles today but wants to deliver experiences in networked ecosystems tomorrow? Philipp Brune explains that in the first step the brand therefore quotes the characteristics of a classic car brand, not least because of the application for investor funds. Apart from the fact that a vehicle was once again in the spotlight during the presentation at the trade fair in Beijing, the heritage was also recognizable in the logo: It continues to sit at the front of the vehicle,
is not made of metal, however, but is backlit and pulsating to express the intelligence of the vehicle. At the same time, the ‘Living Logo’ also contains the DNA of a mobility brand that will significantly simplify the use and integration of AI. The press release states: “In digital applications in particular, it becomes an interface that establishes a relationship with the user by indicating the status of the system and reacting to its counterpart.” You can’t experience that yet.

In the end, the product decides
Whatever the Weltmeister brand promises, the product must prove it. As is so often the case, brand development ends when it comes to the vehicle: Strichpunkt did not participate in its interface, the decisive contact point of the user experience. Even if vehicle interfaces have to meet special requirements due to the strict regulations, e.g. those of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which apply in China, the challenge is to create a close alliance between vehicle and service, product and brand. Florian Gulden comments: “All new Chinese start-ups say they are developing the brand out of the user experience. No one has ever made it”.

Source: Medium