China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is publicly soliciting opinions on the revised national standard of the technologies for pure electric passenger vehicles until August 16, as reported by Caixin on June 17. Under this recommended standard, the ministry defined mini low-speed electric vehicles (LSEV) as a subcategory of passenger battery electric vehicles (BEV), and set restrictions on the outside dimensions, curb weight, and other properties of mini LSEVs. Most importantly, MIIT specified that the safety requirements of mini LSEVs should be consistent with that of passenger BEVs. After the revisions are approved, MIIT and other relevant departments would push forward regulations of mini LSEVs based on the existing rules over passenger cars.
Mini LSEVs refer to four-wheeled EVs that have four seats or less with a maximum speed lower than 70km/h. Such vehicles are in high demand in lower-tier Chinese cities and rural areas, with annual sales of over 1m units in recent years. However, mini LSEVs have been in the regulatory grey area for years, as such vehicles are different from the current passenger vehicle standards. Correspondingly, owners cannot get vehicle licenses for those cars nor need to obtain driving licenses to use the cars. Besides, this type of vehicle can circumvent the strict technical standards of passenger cars, so the quality of mini LSEVs largely varies. In 2018, MIIT pointed out that mini LSEVs had major safety hazards. From 2013 to 2018, there were around 830,000 traffic accidents related to mini LSEVs across the country, resulting in 18,000 deaths and 186,000 injuries.
By defining mini LSEVs, the standard released by MIIT this time could help improve the quality of mini LSEVs and reduce the number of related accidents. At present, there are very few domestic mini LSEV manufacturers that can meet the passenger vehicle safety requirements. Moreover, after passing the safety inspections, those companies also need to obtain the new energy vehicle (NEV) production qualifications to start producing mini LSEVs according to the new revisions. This high threshold will eliminate a large number of underqualified manufacturers from the market. In addition, BEV makers are eyeing the huge potential of the mini LSEV market, adding pressure on existing players in the market to reform their products. For example, in late 2020, SAIC-GM Wuling entered the market by launching its mini EV model. As of May 2021, the monthly sales of the mini EV reached 29,000 units, ranking first in domestic BEV sales.