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This Chinese Electric SUV Has a Weird Name and Even Weirder Doors

© Human Horizons   The Human Horizons HiPhi 1's portals make the Tesla Model X's Falcon doors look normal.

By Mike Duff , Car and Driver

  • This is a new electric vehicle from Chinese startup Human Horizons that's called the HiPhi 1. It claims a driving range of 400 miles and has weird doors.
  • Former Jaguar Land Rover executive Mark Stanton is the company's Chief Technical Officer.
  • The HiPhi 1 is slated to launch in China in 2021, and the company says it hopes to reach other global markets at some point.

The fact that the most unlikely thing about the Human Horizons HiPhi 1 isn't its name— which is meant to reference the high-five rather than retro audio equipment—could be regarded as an achievement. This is an electric SUV from a previously unknown startup that claims a range of up to 400 miles and which also features suicide-hinged rear doors, gullwing-opening roof flaps, and the promise of "eyes off" autonomy as soon as it launches in China in 2021.

While comparisons have already been made between several Chinese makers and Tesla, Human Horizons seems to be looking upmarket, with the HiPhi 1 pitched above companies such as Nio. The 1 is a three-row crossover as long as an extended wheelbase Range Rover—it is 204.8 inches long with a cab-forward cabin offering huge space for six power operated seats. The doors are electrically operated and lack handles: access is through either a camera-based face recognition system or a trusted smartphone.

The rear doors are coach-hinged, with the gullwing flaps in the roof opening to improve access; 18 sensors ensure they won't encounter any obstacles or snag anything as they close. They also won't open if it is raining, or if the rear-seat occupants want to make a low-key entrance (having both doors and gullwings deploy is known internally as the "superstar" setting).

© Human Horizons   Human Horizons HiPhi 1

The HiPhi's other functions are monitored by no fewer than 562 sensors. These range from mood-sensing cameras in the cockpit to a full suite of lidar and radar to allow for piloted driving. Stanton says Human Horizons plan to offer Level 3 autonomy from launch, and Level 4 shortly afterwards. The car also supports C2X (car-to-infrastructure) communication, which will allow smart roads to talk directly to the vehicles, warning of problems outside sensor range or sharing stop-light timing. The car at the launch event also featured a camera-based rear-vision system; although this is not legal for use in China yet, the hope is that lobbying will change that ahead of the launch date.

Beneath the snazzy design, the HiPhi's core architecture uses proven technology. The body is built from a mix of steel and aluminum with a lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor. Human Horizons claims a 96.0-kWh capacity, although different sizes may be offered. Rear-wheel drive will be standard, through a 268-hp Bosch electric motor with a single-speed reduction gear. An all-wheel drive version will use a second identical motor to turn the front axle, resulting in a claimed zero-to-62-mph-time of 3.9 seconds. Human Horizons says the HiPhi 1 will have a range of 400 miles on the (generally optimistic) NEDC testing protocol that China uses.

© Human Horizons   Human Horizons HiPhi 1

Your first instinct is probably to call vapor. Yet although we have no way of knowing if the HiPhi 1 will succeed in the petri-dish of Chinese EV startups, Human Horizons does have expertise co-opted from more traditional automakers thanks to Mark Stanton, the 59-year old Brit who serves as the company’s Chief Technical Officer and who previously worked for both Ford and Jaguar Land Rover.

When we interviewed Stanton in Shanghai at the launch of the HiPhi 1, he admitted that factors had pushed him from JLR as well as drawn him to his new challenge. Part of his motivation was certainly financial, as senior western engineers can earn big wages in the People's Republic. But Stanton also says he was drawn to the freedom and speed that a Chinese startup can offer. “I’ve not got many years left in the industry, and I wanted to be able to see something all the way through,” he says. He now leads of team of 400 engineers and says that the HiPhi project is fully funded to pilot build next year and full sales in China in 2021. “And pretty much everything you see on this car is viable for production,” he says, “it really is going to look like this.”

© Human Horizons   Human Horizons HiPhi 1

Human Horizons has taken a lease on factory in Yangheng belonging to Dongfeng Yueda Kia, a joint venture that manufacturers Kia models. Although he wouldn't discuss production models or pricing, Stanton insisted that the business plan is to "offer the Chinese market something it doesn't currently have" with the ambition of occupying a position upmarket of Tesla. Indeed, he refuses to consider Tesla a true premium player: “I don’t think any genuine premium brand would benchmark against them.” He confirms the ultimate plan is a for a range of different models and, beyond Chinese sales, exports to other part of the world.

We have little idea which of the many players in China’s rush to electrification will thrive or even survive. But it seems increasingly likely that at least some of them will become global players. 



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