What would you expect to pay for an all-electric, two-motor, all-wheel-drive, two-seat, carbon-fiber-bodied sports car that’s roughly the size and shape of a Rimac C_Two? Before you answer, be aware that the 78-kW-hr battery is good for some 200-plus miles, and the doors merely pivot out sideways—there’s no scissoring, butterflying, or scarab-winging drama to draw smartphone camera fire. $200 grand? $300 grand?
Well, have we got a deal for you! This little gem right here, assembled in California, could be yours as soon as next summer for just $125,000. Lots of asterisks: The car must first be homologated for U.S. sale—without any low-volume-manufacturer shortcuts—and the company handling that work just signed on last December. But the vehicle is fully developed and in production in China with roughly 1,000 sold to date. The car was originally developed to meet all European safety standards, so modifications are expected to be minimal and focused on meeting our peculiar lighting, roof-crush, and small-offset crash standards. Sales are forecast to begin in California in mid-2020, then extend to the other CARB-emissions states, and perhaps later to all 50 states (or not).
Let’s start by dissecting the official name: Qiantu (say shi-AHN-tu—it means “future” in Mandarin) K50 by Mullen. Qiantu Motor is a Chinese start-up established in 2015 by CH-Auto Technology Company, a Beijing-based auto design firm that owns a $290 million plant in Suzhou with a capacity of 50,000 cars per year. Mullen Technologies Inc. is the company that will handle the homologation and final assembly of Qiantu K50 complete-knock-down kits at a greenfield assembly location that is due to be disclosed in a few weeks. Mullen also owns a network of dealerships in California as well as CarHub, “a digital platform that leverages AI and offers a complete, fun-to-use solution for buying, selling, and owning a car.” The K50 supercar was first to market (production started in 2017) but other EVs are being built in the plant.
These other Qiantu cars are unlikely to follow the K50 to market in the U.S., as Mullen intends the K50 to serve as a springboard from which it will launch an EV of its own design, engineered and produced in California. That’s the reason for the greenfield plant. Because the K50’s 29 carbon-fiber body panels are colored in the molds (and weigh just 103 pounds total), they arrive ready to fit to the also preassembled aluminum space-frame structure (which weighs 516 pounds). There’s no need for a paint shop or body assembly area, so Mullen’s target of 1,000 K50s per year could easily be assembled in an existing warehouse space. However, the company expects much higher volumes from its own vehicle, which will therefore need body and paint shops.
Speaking of color, six will be offered on the K50, each featuring the exposed carbon-fiber contrast insert side panels. The forged 19-inch wheels come in two colors, and there are a few interior options. The roof incorporates a solar panel capable of powering a fan to cool the cabin when parked in the sun. The windshield is electrically heated. Safety features include 360-degree surround cameras (visible on the 15.6-inch tablet screen) and a full suite of expected collision, lane-change, and cross-traffic warning systems. Otherwise, optional equipment is expected to be minimal. Oh, and the dragonfly logo? It’s a symbol of luck in China.
The liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack uses typical nickel-cobalt-manganese chemistry in a pouch form factor. Qiantu designed and builds the packs in-house but purchases the pouches from an as yet undisclosed supplier. Two charging ports are provided—the one on the driver’s side is for AC Level 2 charging (6 hours to full charge); the other side supports DC fast charging to the SAE CCS standard, which can deliver an 80-percent charge in 40 minutes. The T-shaped pack includes a narrow strip up the center of the cockpit and then stacks batteries behind the seats, ensuring the typical mid-engine sports car weight distribution.
Likewise, there’s no new tech in the motors, which are simple permanent-magnet affairs front and rear driving through a single-speed gear reduction. Their peak combined output in “boost mode” (for 10 seconds) is 430 hp, but continuous power output is more like 376 hp. The single-ratio transmissions inherently limit top speed to about 125 mph. Chief technical officer Frank McMahon pegs the likely 0-60 time at 4.2 seconds.
Naturally, the car delivers dynamic torque vectoring front-to-rear at all times, then uses the Brembo brakes to vector torque from side to side. Speaking of brakes, Qiantu borrows from the Tesla playbook, regenerating energy whenever the throttle is lifted, but engaging the friction brakes whenever the brake pedal is depressed (for a more pure brake pedal feel). Pirelli P Zero tires, sized 235/35R19 front and 265/35R19 rear, promise to deliver the dynamics expected of a car with this 43/57-percent front/rear weight distribution and low center of gravity.
Mullen expects to sell and service the K50 directly through its own dealerships. The early guestimate of a $125,000 base price takes into consideration “worst-case” tariff scenarios, which in any case are minimized by the component-import/local-assembly scenario. So what do you think? Might you be persuaded by the K50’s blend of hypercar design with sports car performance for Mercedes SL 550 money?
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