GWM Haval is expected to take its mid-size and full-size SUVs in a different direction by embracing hybrid electric vehicle technology and hydrogen fuel cells.

Haval, Great Wall’s SUV brand has been in Australia for a few years now, introducing itself to the market the same way Japanese cars did in the 1970s and 1980s, by offering lots of features for a lower-than-expected price. Back in the day, the features on offer were things like power windows and airconditioning. These days, GWM Haval is offering Level 2 autonomous driving along with the sunroofs, power windows and other whizbangery.

GWM Haval also offers a seven-year warranty and five years of roadside assist, which is highly competitive.

GWM Haval’s stablemates are pushing battery technology forward

GWM Haval is now starting to enter the electric vehicle world, with parent company, Great Wall Motors, launching EVs in its stable. There are murmurings around the industry that the intriguingly named Ora Cherry Cat may come to Australia to find a place in the increasingly popular small electric SUV category.

One stand-out feature of the Ora Cherry is its cobalt-free battery. Cobalt has been used in lithium-ion batteries to increase their energy density and stabilise the battery. But it is problematic because it is rare, linked to questionable mining practices and expensive.

Researchers have been searching for a replacement for cobalt in L-ion batteries for some time and a breakthrough at the University of Texas in 2020 seems to have given rise to a great leap forward in cobalt-free battery performance.

GWM Haval is going in a different direction

GWM Haval, though, is expected to take its mid-size and full-size SUVs in a different direction than their smaller cousins by embracing hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) technology and hydrogen fuel cells.

HEV SUVs

Plugin hybrids are not a huge part of the SUV world in Australia yet and it is hard to see why. For an SUV driver, the ability to charge at home, drive on the battery in the city and use the internal combustion engine on long trips seems like the second great Australian dream.

The main deterrent has probably been the price premium charged for plugin hybrids over internal combustion vehicles (ICVs). Given GWM Haval’s demonstrated price competitiveness, the Haval H6, expected to be released in early 2022, may be a game changer for the sector.

GMW Haval’s market share in the medium SUV category, below $60,000 has been increasing – up from 1.9 per cent in 2019 to 4.6 per cent in 2021. The new hybrid claims fuel consumption of 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres – more than the similarly sized Toyota RAV 4, but it has more power too.

The 1.5 litre petrol turbo-charged petrol engine and 130kW electric motor produce 179kw between them, and 530 Nm of torque. To put the torque number into perspective, it is 210 Nm more than the same car with the petrol engine, and as much or more torque than many full-size SUVs.

Hydrogen fuel cells

GWM Haval’s other intriguing push is into hydrogen fuel cell powerplants for its consumer vehicles. There is plenty of talk around the motoring industry about hydrogen fuel cells for heavy equipment and trucks, but most of the consumer vehicle discussion focuses on batteries. But in an SUV, especially one which may be used off-road, or in remote areas, hydrogen fuel cells have some advantages, such as:

  • they can be recharged as quickly as you can replace the hydrogen – about as fast as filling up an ICV with fuel
  • hydrogen vehicles have all the advantages of EVs – abundant torque, near-silent running, low to no pollution from the vehicle
  • the range of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is similar to an ICV, which is a challenge for all but the most expensive EVs
  • hydrogen is an abundant gas that can be extracted from the atmosphere easily and cleanly using solar powered osmosis
  • performance does not reduce in cold weather in the same way that battery powered electric vehicles do

Whether GWM Haval plans to use the fuel cells as the main powerplant, or as a range extender for a battery powered EV remains to be seen.

The main disadvantages of hydrogen power are that it is less efficient than an EV – making about 22 per cent of its stored energy available at the car’s wheels, against around 75 per cent for a battery EV, but that is likely to improve with further technological advantages.

One criticism of hydrogen power is that the power to make the hydrogen can come from fossil-fuel powered electricity generation.

While this is a reasonable criticism to make, it applies equally to battery ECVs. Either vehicle powered by dirty electricity is only pollution-free at the point of use. Conversely, renewable power used to extract hydrogen or charge a battery EV makes for a green solution.

The future

While GWM Haval’s strategies may sound like a departure from the norm, it seems to be hoping to make them the norm. HAVAL has teamed-up with BMW to create Spotlight Automotive with plans to produce 160,000 units of a new vehicle, and to share new energy innovations with both companies. HAVAL is also planning to launch 20 new vehicles around the world using some of these new technologies by 2023.

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