Meet the start-ups shaking up China’s automotive landscape

Illustration of a stack of cars
Clockwise from top, Envision’s Sibylla, Lynk & Co’s O2, Byton’s electric SUV concept, Redspace’s Reds, Nio’s ES8 amd the Polestar 1.
(Image credit: Julien Pacaud)

China is a fertile breeding ground for automotive start-ups. Lynk & Co, Nio, Byton and Polestar have all recently emerged fully formed, marking a shift away from established brand names and towards a connected, all-electric future.

These brand new brands are liberated from a century of fossil-fuelled heritage and show a willingness to completely rethink the role of the car. Geely, the biggest car company you’ve never heard of, is building the Lynk & Co EV sub-brand, as well as Polestar, a Volvo-affiliated performance marque.

Silver car

Sibylla concept car, by Envision

(Image credit: TBC)

Meanwhile, Envision’s elegant Sibylla concept was designed by GFG Style studio. Lei Zhang, CEO of Envision Energy, believes in a tech-led approach. ‘We want to demonstrate the future of e-mobility,’ he says. ‘The future EV will be a personal, mobile, intelligent green power station.’ Envision’s USP is an interconnected ‘smart grid’ of devices, storage and power generation that the entrepreneur likens to a ‘Facebook of energy’. There’s also Redspace’s asymmetrical city car, designed by Chris Bangle, the former design chief of BMW.

‘I think most thinking designers have a great ambivalence towards the concept of brands,’ says Bangle. ‘Redspace is refreshing because it has so little inertia from the past and so much to offer.’ The car’s role as a social signifier remains undiminished, but these new brands match desirability with smart design and data-mining as China seeks to escape pollution with the next stage of automotive evolution.

As originally featured in the June 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*231)

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.