Currently reading: Why UK-bound Leapmotor is different from other Chinese EV makers
Stellantis will bring the electric car maker's T03 supermini and C10 SUV to Europe from September

Leapmotor was a relative unknown among the mass of new Chinese EV companies until last October when Stellantis – owner of brands such as Alfa Romeo and Vauxhall - paid €1.5 billion for a 21% stake and to take control of the company’s entire export output.

This week, the two companies announced the start of Leapmotor EV sales in mainland Europe from September and in the UK from March 2025, starting with the T03 city car and C10 mid-sized Volkswagen ID 4 rival. More will follow, eventually giving Leapmotor a range to take on MG.

But just who is Leapmotor and what is the appeal, both to customers and to Stellantis dealers, who might want to take a punt on stocking the range?

The clue to Leapmotor’s origins lie in its address: 451 Internet of Things Street, Hangzhou. The company was founded in 2015 by Jiangming Zhu, an engineer who had previously helped to set up electronics company Dahua Technology.

Dahua is most famous for being sanctioned by the US and UK over its surveillance cameras. However, the company, also located on Internet of Things Street, has a far broader tech range that dovetails neatly into Leapmotor’s own technology, which appears to outstrip that of Stellantis in some areas.

Leapmotor’s first car was the dinky S01, a 4m-long electric coupé launched in 2019 that, it would be fair to say, didn’t exactly set the sales charts alight.

The T03 city car arrived next, in 2020, packing a range of battery sizes in a four-seat car that costs from the equivalent of just £5500 before taxes in China. No price has been set for mainland Europe or the UK, but Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares has said it’ll sell a higher-spec car with a 165-mile range for below €20,000. The £14,995 Dacia Spring EV is expected to be a key target.

Leapmotor’s ambitions in China have long since outpaced its initial city car forays and its most recent launches have been much larger SUVs and saloons that sit in the “good but not expensive” category, according to its annual report.

Of those, we’ll get the C10 mid-sized SUV, but Leapmotor CEO Zhu told journalists on Tuesday that it plans to launch more compact models for European and global markets while focusing on bigger cars in China. 

Next year, new Netherlands-based joint-venture company Leapmotor International will bring to Europe a compact SUV named A12 as well as another compact vehicle called the A03. Following in 2026 will be small models, one an SUV named T05 and another called T11, Zhu said. The names are likely to change. 

The company’s extended-range plug-in hybrid versions of the C10 and possible future vehicles could also be homologated, Tavares said, if attitudes among European policy makers changed to the point where it made the cost of adapting them for Euro 7 emissions standards worthwhile.

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The advantage for Stellantis is that it can source electric cars from China and still make money, given the 30%-cheaper build costs for EVs there compared with Europe. 

Don’t expect the eye-popping Chinese EV prices to be replicated in Europe after homologation, shipping and import tax (now at 10%, but it could rise if EU/UK tariffs on Chinese EVs increase). However, they will “leverage the cost competitiveness” of the China manufacturing base, according to Tavares. 

It also gives Stellantis cars access to the cheaper, more durable lithium-iron-phosphate chemistry, although Leapmotor is coy about its suppliers. Lesser-known Chinese cell maker CALB is reportedly one.

The technology in the cars, on paper at least, eclipses that offered in any Stellantis car. Leapmotor’s Leap 3.0 architecture in the C10 SUV makes it one of the few genuine ‘software-defined’ vehicles, alongside Tesla. “They are very advanced,” Jean-Marie Lapeyre, chief technology and innovation officer for the automotive arm of consultants Capgemini, told Autocar earlier this year.

Leapmotor says its electronic architecture packages a single ‘system-on-chip’ central computer system from Qualcomm that separates control into four domains: body, driver assistance, infotainment and driving functions. 

This self-labelled Four-Leaf Clover Architecture allows fast over-the-air upgrades for multiple functions and – if it works as promised – means Leapmotor has cracked one of the great transformation conundrums of the modern digital automotive age, ahead of the likes of Stellantis, Volkswagen, Mercedes etc.

The advantage of Leap 3.0 and the Four Leaf Clover is that it can be replicated across future models, reducing the development cycle of models on the platform by 25%, and the overall investment by 40%, Leapmotor said in its company report.

Other innovations include a cell-to-chassis integration of the battery pack to save weight; diecast body sections to cut manufacturing time; and a powerful assisted driving system that, in China at least, promises level two-plus hands-off, eyes-on automated navigation on major highways, with city-level streets scheduled to be added in 2025 with the upgrade to Leap 3.5.

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How well that technology will work in Europe is not clear but overall the specification on even the tiny T03 is high.

Leapmotor also makes many of its own parts – up to 60% of the bill of materials cost – and becoming a supplier to Stellantis could be another source of revenue.

Like many Chinese EV start-ups Leapmotor remains unprofitable. The company, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, lost the equivalent of just under £500 million last year on sales of 144,155 vehicles out of 560 dealers in China. 

However, sales were up 30% and the company predicts it will make its first profit in the fourth quarter of 2025, it told banking firm Jefferies on a recent visit. Higher-margin exports are planned to be a big driver of that, with 100,0000 sales outside of China expected in 2025.

The company is gearing up dramatically for those exports. Leapmotor already operates one plant in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, with an annual capacity of 200,000 but it has now added a much larger facility close to its HQ in Hangzhou (a city that is also home to Geely). 

In total, the company has a capacity to build 800,000 vehicles a year, Tavares told journalists, meaning there’s a lot riding on the plan to export not just to Europe but also South America, India, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

If Europe does impose higher tariffs, as Leapmotor expects, Stellantis is preparing a ‘screwdriver’ line to build kits of Leapmotor vehicles at its Tychy, Poland, plant, with the T03 likely to be produced first, according to Jefferies. “Leapmotor could leverage Stellantis's established production network to reduce the tariff risks in other markets too,” Jefferies analyst Xiaoyi Lei said in an investor note.

Leapmotor, whose name in Chinese translates to Zero Run, is an oddity among export-focused local car makers in China in that none of its 9314 employees work outside of China, excluding the new joint-venture company. It has no European design or R&D centre, setting it apart from the likes of Nio, Zeekr, Polestar, Changan, Avatr, SAIC and others. 

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The fact that the cars are designed and engineered without significant European input is likely to be offset by the instant advantage it will have leveraging Stellantis’s dealer network, with 200 planned across Europe initially and rising to 500 over the medium term. 

Tavares said the company-owned Stellantis & You retail network will stock Leapmotor cars, while dealer partners will also be offered the chance to add the brand. The range of cars will be “very simplified to reduce complexity and inventory risk,” Leapmotor International CEO Tianshu Xin told journalists.

As for separating Leapmotor from other Stellantis brands in multi-franchise dealers, Autocar understands Stellantis is not going to be “dictatorial” in terms of enforcing a separate showroom area.

Perhaps an even greater advantage Leapmotor has over Chinese rivals is the access to Stellantis’s 130 aftersales parts hubs across Europe. “We are going to make sure that the consumers are never stuck with the vehicles waiting for parts coming from far away,” Tavares said. 

Leapmotor had been in danger of being swamped in China’s brutal price war, despite its technology advantage. The deal with Stellantis has opened up a new future for the company. As CEO Zhu put it to journalists on Tuesday: “With the Stellantis advantage and with our products, one plus one will definitely be bigger than two.”

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