The new car brands you haven’t heard of… yet

Keen to exploit the electric revolution, new car companies are being set up in ever-increasing numbers. Which ones are worth keeping an eye on?

Hongqi E-HS9

There used to be many more carmakers. When the car was still a new thing, an engineering teenager, carmakers sprung up in huge numbers, many of them from back yards and sheds as people tried to exploit the new technology. Some – the likes of Wolseley, Alvis, Spyker, Darracq – would flourish for a while before sliding into senescence. Others – Ford, Cadillac, Opel, Peugeot – are very much still with us and flourishing. Others still – Duryea, Cleveland, Richmond, Albion, and the incredible Alldays & Onions – barely register as a blip in history.

Now, we are seeing new brands popping up all over once again. Primarily these are Chinese brands, but not all are. All are, though, looking to exploit the electric revolution, making hay while the technology shines seems more important to the buyer than a trusted, established brand. Which of these will succeed? Which will be consigned to history? And which will actually make it to Irish shores? We’ve already seen successful spinoffs from existing carmakers, such as Polestar and Cupra, but which of the following will be remembered?


1. Bollinger Motors

Bollinger makes big, square pickups and 4x4s with electric power that are so rectilinear in their style, they make a Land Rover Defender look like a Mini Moke. Speaking to The Irish Times, Bollinger CEO Robert Bollinger said: “In comparison to burning fossil fuels in vehicles, everything about going electric is a million times better. And if your original electric source is generated through renewables, there’s no comparison to how more eco-friendly any EV is to any gas or diesel vehicle. And most states in the US are nearing or passing 50 per cent green energy production. As for getting the vehicle from the drawing board into production, until we have trucks on the road it’s going to be endlessly difficult. We just have to keep working and aiming for our goal.”

Bollinger also confirmed that the company is looking at making right-hand drive models of its vehicles for the UK and Irish market, as “the design allows for this to be done easily”.


Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 6/10


2. Lucid

Lucid, like a lot of start-ups, seems to ping between feast and famine in the financial pages. One minute it’s a coming behemoth, ready to squish Tesla like a bug. The next, as is the case this week, it’s struggling for money and slashing its 2022 production forecast from tens of thousands of cars to maybe 6,000. Lucid still manages to feel slightly different to some other pop-up carmakers of recent years – especially the bin-fire that is Faraday Future – as its chief executive, Peter Rawlinson (ex-Jaguar, ex-Lotus) has stuck with the brand through thick and thin.

Equally, it has made one already-brilliant product – the handsome, fast (up to 950hp), and long-ranged (830km) Lucid Air. All-electric, the Air has already proven a critical hit. If only Lucid can actually build some now, then maybe Rawlinson’s claims of continuing strong demand for the car can be proven right.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 5/10


3. BYD

Yes, it stands for “Build Your Dreams” but don’t let that put you off. Technically, BYD is currently the biggest producer of electric cars in the world, selling more than one million EVs a year at the moment, all of them in the Chinese market. Some of these, like the BYD E3, look like a mutant Suzuki. Others, such as the BYD Han, look sexy enough to be on a poster in your bedroom. Others still – such as the new BYD Seal – could very probably start appearing on Irish roads in the short term.

The new Seal (BYD likes aquatic animal names; it also makes models called the Dolphin and the Seagull, as well as the Destroyer, Frigate, and Landing Ship, which sound a bit less cuddly in the current political climate…) is a direct rival to the Tesla Model 3, and looks like a cross between that car and the new Hyundai Ioniq 6. BYD makes its own batteries, and the Seal comes with either a 61kWh or an 82kWh stack of them, giving it a maximum possible range of 700km. BYD hasn’t announced Irish plans yet, but it’s already on sale in Germany and Sweden, so the odds are shortening every day.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 8/10


4. Zeekr

Technically, you can already buy a Zeekr in Ireland. Well, kind of. Zeekr is the latest brand to be launched by the Geely company, one of China’s biggest. Geely already has significant European interests as it already owns Volvo, Polestar, Lotus, and the company that makes London Taxis.

So Zeekr, which has been established in the Chinese market as a direct rival to fast-selling Tesla, will probably never come to Europe, as Geely will probably think that with Volvo and Polestar, it already has enough brands selling electric cars over here. If you like, though, you can pretend that your Polestar or your electric Volvo is a Zeekr, as the brands will share electric motors, batteries, and other technology.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 1/10


5. Alpine

Hang on, don’t we already have Alpine? Hasn’t Alpine been around since the early 1970s? Well, yes it has and for all of that time it’s been a sports carmaker. Long since absorbed into the Renault group, Alpine was revived three years ago to make a delectable mid-engined sports car called the A110. You can’t officially buy one in Ireland at the moment, but we’ve driven it and it’s beyond wonderful.

Now, though, Alpine is about to reinvent itself and go all-electric. The company is already working on an all-electric replacement for the A110, which will share some of its electric tech with Lotus, and it will also create Alpine-ised versions of new electric Renaults, including the new Megane E-Tech Electric and the gorgeous upcoming electric Renault 5. Put this one on your shopping lists; it’s going to be good.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 9/10


6. Genesis

Toyota did it with Lexus. Nissan tried to do it with Infiniti. Honda kinda still does it with Acura. Creating a luxury spin-off brand, inevitably designed to compete with BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, is not an easy thing to do, and even with Lexus it’s taken three decades to get European buyers properly switched on to the brand.

That’s not stopping Hyundai, which has created its own luxury Lexus rival called Genesis. The brand has actually already been on sale in the US, Europe, and the UK for a few years now, but Hyundai Ireland was always reluctant to launch it here until the cars were fit for Irish purposes. Now that Genesis has its first all-electric model – the GV60 – on sale, that day is drawing closer (and you can already buy a privately-imported GV60 from the likes of DCEV). If the GV60 looks a touch ordinary for a luxury brand (and it does) then hold on. Genesis recently showed off a gorgeous electric 2+2 coupe called the Speedium and if they put that on sale, then they’re going to have to fend us off with sticks. Shut up, and take our money.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 10/10


7. NIO

Another start-up Chinese brand, but don’t dismiss NIO as a flash in the pan. It’s been successfully selling cars in China since 2016; its EP9 electric hypercar holds battery-powered lap records at Circuit Paul Ricard in France and Circuit of the Americas in Texas; and it’s been successfully racing in Formula E since 2014. The brand is already on sale in Norway, and it has its eyes on the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and the UK by 2025. Surely a few NIOs will find their way this side of the Irish Sea? They almost certainly will, as the likes of the EC6 electric crossover can already boast a one-charge range of more than 600km (although that’s on the old NEDC test).

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 8/10


8. Rivian

Electric power has triggered a revival of the US car industry. Tesla, the world’s most (in)famous carmaker right now is based in California, while battery drive has allowed General Motors to revive defunct brands such as Hummer. Rivian is a US start-up that’s focused – unsurprisingly – on pickups and SUVs for its first vehicles, and the cars have a pleasantly practical way about them.

Rivian has exploited their flat-floor layout by providing nice touches such as a huge storage area under the back seats, where you’d expect to find a fuel tank. That area can be filled, optionally, with a pull-out kitchen for camping. The handsome R1T pickup boasts a one-charge range of more than 500km, but the company has been rocked of late by a tumbling stock price and accusations of lousy treatment of some of its senior female executives. Nonetheless, Rivian still has a contract to provide Amazon with thousands of electric delivery vans, so even if the pickups don’t come over here, the delivery vans might.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 5/10


9. Ineos

You might have seen the Ineos logo on Mercedes’s F1 cars in recent years, but Ineos is only recently a car manufacturer. For many decades, it’s been a hugely successful chemical engineering firm, but the company boss, Jim Ratcliffe, spotted an opportunity when Land Rover replaced its long-lived Defender with a more luxurious, less utilitarian model.

Ratcliffe decided that he’d make a true-blue Defender replacement, and so Ineos swung into the car-making business with the Grenadier. Looking very much like a cross between an old Defender and a Mercedes G-Wagen, the Grenadier uses BMW petrol or diesel power (electric and possibly hydrogen models are on the way) and is specifically designed to be a no-nonsense off-road workhorse.

The car stirred up controversy when it transpired that a promised factory in Wales had been abandoned in favour of an ex-Smart factory in France, and this for a company whose boss is a prominent supporter of Brexit.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 10/10


10. Vinfast

Vinfast is the first Vietnamese carmaker to start selling cars outside of its home market, and the company has some pretty massive ambitions. It already has one major factory in Haiphong, capable of making 250,000 cars a year, but has this past week started recruiting 8,000 additional workers to push that to 600,000.

Even that’s not enough – Vinfast has plans for a vast factory in North Carolina, in the US, which will make SUVs, trucks, buses and batteries, and is expected to employ some 7,500 people when it comes online. The company wants to sell 750,000 cars per year by 2026. Oddly, Vinfast has resurrected the old Renault idea of leasing the car’s battery separately to the car, offering leases starting from about €33 per month. Will European buyers take to that idea (they didn’t when Renault offered it) when Vinfast comes to these shores? We’ll see. Hopefully by then, the beaky, heavy-handed styling of some of its current models will have been toned down.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland? 5/10

11. Hongqi

Hongqi E-HS9

Hongqi may not mean much to you or me, but to China it means everything. The brand – owned now by car-making giant FAW (First Automobile Works) – literally translates as “Red Flag” and it makes the exclusive 1950s-look L5 limousine as used by China’s Communist Party elites, and many of the nation’s top business leaders too. Hongqi also makes cars that regular people can buy, and it has designs in Europe.

Its big HS9 SUV now comes with a 120kWh battery for a massive 600km range and is already on sale in Norway, where it’s been called the “Chinese Rolls-Royce Cullinan”. In Norway, the HS9 sells for the equivalent of €61,000 which is a heck of a lot cheaper than a Cullinan. The brand also has plans for an electric supercar, to be co-built with US EV start-up Silk Motors. The S9 supercar, currently destined to be a plug-in electric model, is due to be built near Bologna, in the heartland of Italian supercar country.

Chances of seeing one in Ireland: 7/10