China’s Geely launches electric pickup as urbanites embrace camping

SHANGHAI, July 12 (Reuters) – Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding (GEELY.UL) on Tuesday unveiled a new electric pickup truck, targeting growing demand from city residents as coronavirus restrictions fuel interest in outdoor activities like camping.

The Volvo owner also launched a new brand, RADAR, at an online event on Tuesday where it showcased its first pickup product, which it called RD6. An earlier statement had referred to the new truck as R6.

It did not disclose the vehicle’s selling price but said it would have a driving range of more than 600 km (370 miles) per charge.

Pickups are considered a niche segment in China where they are mostly used by farmers. They are still banned from most urban roads despite trials since 2016 allowing limited entry to several cities and urging from Beijing to remove red tape.

Pickups contributed around 2% of China’s auto sales last year, with growth outpacing that of other segments including sedans and sports utility vehicles.

Interest in the vehicles is growing among the country’s urban residents who are taking up outdoor pursuits as COVID-19 measures discourage gatherings and limit travel.

“In an optimistic estimation, the annual sales of pickup trucks can reach 3 million units in China by 2030,” CEO of RADAR Ling Shiquan told Reuters.

“More people are pursing a healthy lifestyle with more outdoor activities while the governments are also relaxing restrictions for pickups in cities. Those changes are supporting the growth of pickup trucks,” Ling added.

Nonetheless, sales of pickups fell 10.3% in the first five months of this year, against a 13% fall in passenger vehicles more broadly, data from the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) showed, with the industry also hit by COVID-19 restrictions.

Ling said Geely aims to start offering the RD6 to Chinese consumers in the fourth quarter. The company is also studying the Southeast Asian market for potential expansion opportunities.

Geely may also bring the trucks to the United States, the world’s largest pickup market, to compete with existing players such as Ford (F.N), Tesla and Rivian (RIVN.O), Ling said.

China’s pickup market is dominated by Hebei-based Great Wall Motor, while foreign players include Ford’s F-150 Raptor and a $9,000 pickup truck launched by General Motors with its local joint venture last year.

RADAR will add to the more than 10 passenger vehicle brands Geely owns, which include Zeekr and Polestar. It will produce the pickups at a plant in the eastern province of Shandong, the company said.

Geely previously rolled out a pickup with a combustion engine priced from 119,900 yuan ($17,815.75) two years ago.

($1 = 6.7300 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Zhang Yan, Brenda Goh; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Josie Kao