About 10 years ago, many were saying that Chinese cars would take over the motoring world. Driving around in a Ford or VW now, they said? Pffft — forget it, pretty soon you’ll be in a Roewe or a Geely. Yet for many years, when you tried to find a Chinese car available for sale that people would actually happily buy, what you mostly found were tumbleweeds.
Well, in 2022 that has changed, and changed utterly. One of the most impressive new cars on sale this year has been the electric MG 4, and it’s equally one of the cars about which people seem to be most excited. While MG has a classically British brand on its nose, the company has been entirely Chinese-owned since 2005. Equally, Polestar has been making some inroads into the luxury EV market, and while it’s related to Volvo, both companies are also, technically, Chinese these days — both (alongside the likes of Proton, London Taxi, and even sports car maker Lotus) are part of the huge Geely group, which has also just bought a significant stake in Aston Martin.
Into that febrile mix of acquisitiveness and vehicular improvement comes a car called, with an entirely straight face, the Funky Cat. Better make sure you spellcheck that before including it in any emails, just in case. The Cat is made by a relative newcomer, Ora, but Ora itself is part of Great Wall Motors, one of China’s oldest car makers (even though that means it was established as recently as 1984).
In spite of its cutesy retro looks, this is a car going for the electric jugular of the VW ID.3 and the recently-introduced Renault Megane E-Tech
Great Wall has actually been in Ireland before. Some time ago, IM Group — also the importer for Subaru and, at the time, Citroen — imported some Great Wall pickup trucks for the commercials market. Ora’s Funky Cat is an entirely different kettle of fish. In spite of its cutesy retro looks, this is a car going for the electric jugular of the VW ID.3 and the recently-introduced Renault Megane E-Tech.
It’s a five door hatchback, powered by a choice of 47.8kWh or 63.4kWh batteries, with a 171hp electric motor driving the front wheels, and one-charge ranges that run from 310km for the smaller battery, to 420km for the bigger one.
Significantly, it’ll be priced from €31,995, making it hardly any more expensive than a basic VW Golf, whose dimensions the Funky Cat pretty closely follows. If you want the big battery, it’s a chunkier €39,995 price tag.
That eye-catching entry-level price tag tips the Funky Cat into the somewhat febrile motoring environment. Chinese-made cars, especially electric cars, have started to arrive in significant numbers in Europe, and with tempting price tags. European car makers in turn have started to complain that their Chinese counterparts might be “dumping” their EVs on the market at below-cost price in order to put the competition out of business. There have been calls from some quarters for retributive tariffs and taxes.
That is not what Ora’s about, says Edmond Kelleher, IM Group’s Ora product specialist. “Cheap and affordable are not really words we’d associate with the Funky Cat. The goal of Great Wall Motors with this product is not to have a Dacia-style approach: this is a quality, premium product. It’s already been shown to some of the residual value and second-hand specialists in the UK, and the comment that came back from that, from those independent assessors, was that the car’s quality is on a par with the likes of Genesis [Hyundai’s luxury brand].”
Pat Ryan, IM Group’s managing director, chimed in to agree, saying that: “It was important for us to launch in the market with something that’s high in quality, not a poverty-spec model. We want to come in with high standards, a long warranty, and still be affordable for the Irish market.”
The Funky Cat is certainly that. There are two specifications, with the only option being a contrast colour roof. The small-battery 300 Pro model comes with twin 10.25-inch screens for instruments and infotainment, 18-inch alloys, electric adjustment for the front seats, radar-guided cruise control, blind spot detection, rear parking sensors, and a reversing camera. The pricier 400 Pro model gets heated seats and steering wheel, a panoramic glass roof, ventilated front seats, and automated parking.
What is on IM’s agenda is sales, and thanks to a largely healthy supply at a time when many car makers are struggling to get cars built, that could play hugely in Ora’s favour
Both models also get a facial recognition system. This is designed to save your preset seat, air-conditioning, sat-nav and infotainment options and automatically set up the car to your liking as you sit in. Then again, would having a facial recognition system in a Chinese-built car raise any issues with people concerned about privacy? “I can assure you we’re not building a big data warehouse to watch who’s joining you on the commute” says Ryan. “That’s totally not on our agenda.”
What is on IM’s agenda is sales, and thanks to a largely healthy supply at a time when many car makers are struggling to get cars built, that could play hugely in Ora’s favour. There should be 400 Funky Cats on Irish soil in time for the crucial January sales period, although IM Group reckons that the bottleneck in getting more cars here is not production but shipping, as many of the existing sailings for cargo are already booked solid.
There may also be something of a bottleneck at this end, as Ora doesn’t have any dealers just yet, and IM Group isn’t going to distribute the brand through its existing Subaru network. A dealer appointment for Dublin is expected any day now, while Galway and Cork will follow soon after, with what Kelleher describes as “household name” dealers. More outlets will be appointed as supply of cars frees up, in theory. A third Funky Cat model, a sporty GT version, will arrive in late 2023.
Beyond that, Ora has big plans. At the Paris motor show, Ora showed off The Next Funky Cat (yes, that’s it’s name at least for now). While this four-door fastback saloon retained some of the Funky Cat’s retro-ish looks around the front, it’s a bigger, more luxurious four-door saloon, and a rival to the likes of Tesla’s Model 3 and the incoming Hyundai Ioniq 6.
It gets 402hp, and 680Nm of torque thanks to two electric motors and four-wheel drive. This cat can claw its way to 100km/h in a claimed 4.3 seconds and the car doesn’t look unlike a Porsche Panamera. Ora is clearly a brand with serious, lofty ambitions. Will such an unknown brand, with such quirky styling, find favour with Irish buyers? Don’t bet against it…