German premium automaker BMW last week unveiled a new brand in China in a bid to tap the nation's fledgling electric car market.
According to the company, the first product carrying the nameplate of Zinoro, or Zhinuo in Chinese, is an all-electric vehicle that will make its debut in November this year at the Guangzhou auto show and hit the market in the first quarter next year.
The car is "specially made in China for China", said Friedrich Eichiner, member of the management board of BMW.
The country is on the right track with regard to electric cars, but the switch to a new technology takes time, he said.
The Zinoro brand is owned by BMW's local partnership with Brilliance Auto, and the cars will be built at the joint venture, which now produces the BMW 3 Series, 5 Series and X1 at plants in the northeastern city of Shenyang.
Olaf Kastner, president and CEO of the joint venture, said that the Zinoro will have a separate distribution channel and the batteries are sourced from within China. He also disclosed that the first product will be similar to an SUV.
Next year, BMW will also introduce the i3, an all-electric car under its wholly owned i sub-brand to China through imports.
Eichiner said the Zinoro brand is rooted in China and reflects distinctive aspects of Chinese culture unlike the carmaker's i brand.
The products will also be differentiated, he said, "They (Zinoro cars) may not be as dynamic as BMW cars, for example".
He also added that there is a possibility the Zinoro could be exported to markets outside China.
So far, BMW is the first and only foreign luxury carmaker to launch such a joint venture-owned brand in China. Both Audi and Mercedes-Benz have announced no plans yet to take similar actions.
Three years ago, Honda became the first foreign carmaker to create a separate brand under a joint venture in China in order to tap into the market for entry-level, low-priced cars.
Later, Nissan's joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Corp rolled out cars under its new Venucia brand with a similar market position.
Other carmakers, like Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia, all have plans to release joint venture brands. Similar to BMW, some of the projected products will be electric vehicles, while others will be low-cost cars similar to the models by Honda and Nissan.
At the unveiling ceremony of the Zinoro brand, BMW and Brilliance said they will enhance cooperation between them in research and development to improve the competitiveness of the joint venture.
BMW also said it will authorize Brilliance to assemble its latest four-cylinder engine in China and equip it on the Chinese carmaker's products released under its own brand.
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