Let’s get this out of the way: Qiantu is pronounced Jhan-tu, and it roughly translates to “shaping the road ahead” according to Frank McMahon, the CTO and chief engineer of Mullen Technologies. Mullen’s trademark slogan just happens to be “shaping the road ahead in electric vehicles.” It was an odd coincidence, one that certainly didn’t hurt when the two companies started to fashion an agreement to bring the all-electric Qiantu K50 sports car to the U.S.
A wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese company CH Auto Technology Co., Qiantu Motor was established in 2015 as a way for CH-Auto to develop an electrified brand with a high-performance, luxury portfolio. It built a factory in China expressly to produce the Qiantu K50 and other Qiantu-branded vehicles. A concept version of the K50 debuted in roadster form at the 2016 Beijing auto show and the hardtop coupe is already in production and on sale there.
Brea, California–based startup Mullen took notice of the K50 and the fledgling EV maker and after some courting, in December of 2018 the company signed an agreement with CH-Auto to assemble K50s here in America. In addition, Mullen just announced that it has signed a letter of intent with the West Plains Airport Area Public Development Authority in Washington state for the construction of up to 1.3 million square feet of space for its assembly, manufacturing, and R&D efforts. Located in the Spokane region, Mullen is estimating 55 jobs initially, increasing to north of 850 jobs by 2026.
At the outset, Mullen will receive a knockdown kit of sorts from China to assemble, consisting of the K50’s all-aluminum extrusion space frame, a set of carbon-composite exterior body panels, and the rest of the componentry. Mullen has also been charged with homologating the vehicle for the U.S. market. Though McMahon says there will need to be a fair amount of changes to the car in order for it to meet American regulations, he’s confident that the company will be able to do so in time for the Qiantu K50 by Mullen to hit the streets by the second half of 2020. While pricing wasn’t broached, the car on sale in China lists at around $100,000 when factoring in exchange rates.
A car-business vet who started out as a structural engineer, McMahon first worked for Magna and later Nissan for the better part of 15 years in various capacities. Then he decided to come out to California in late 2009 to work for Henrik Fisker’s fledgling hybrid-electric vehicle project that would eventually result in the Karma. He toiled for three iterations of Fisker’s mostly ill-fated ventures before assuming his present role at Mullen in late 2017. So he knows more than a little bit about startups, electrified vehicles, and the challenges surrounding each.
“There’s a reason why we started with this vehicle,” McMahon told us just prior to the Qiantu K50’s North American reveal at the 2019 New York auto show. “There’s kind of a hole in this segment, and it’s great way for an organization like ours to grow without having to start from the ground up.”
As McMahon indicated, there is a bit of an opening for a vehicle like the Qiantu K50 in the high-end electric-vehicle market. Will the car be worth considering? From what we’ve learned of it so far, it may. Here’s a breakdown of some of the K50’s other key elements:
• It’s all-wheel drive, with dual synchronous electric motors—one front, one rear—that produce around 430 horsepower and 500 lb-ft combined at peak power.
• Zero to 60 mph for the present production car is estimated at about 4.2 seconds, with range just south of 200 miles to a charge. McMahon said he and his team are going to work hard on lowering the 60 time and upping the range during the homologation process.
• The K50 utilizes an independent front/rear control-arm suspension setup and dynamic torque vectoring that help make it “really fun to drive,” according to McMahon.
• Brembo four-piston calipers stop things up front, and the K50 rolls on Pirelli P Zeros, sized 235/35 front and 265/35 rear. The tires wrap around 19-inch forged wheels.
• The body panels come out of the mold in color, so McMahon and his team won’t need to do any painting, which is a huge advantage for the assembly process.
• McMahon says the car has a 47/53-percent front/rear weight distribution and a roughly 4,300-pound curb weight.
• The battery pack is T-shaped, with two sections in the center tunnel and another two tucked behind the seats. The battery packs are built in house (as is a charging station) by the CH-Auto group of companies, although the charging port will have to be switched to a CHAdeMO setup for the U.S. market.
• Inside, there’s a 15.6-inch central touchscreen infotainment screen, leather and Alcantara-swathed seats, and other luxury-leaning touches.
• There’s a solar panel in the roof that will help provide auxiliary power.
While we wouldn’t exactly call the K50 a thing of beauty from the outside, we wouldn’t call it ugly either, with a swoopy, compact shape offset by a color-keyed element that adds some flair to the bodywork (or detracts from it, depending on your point of view).
McMahon is itching to get started. “I’m really looking forward to building cars, as many cars as I can possibly make,” he said. “The last few years haven’t made too many.
“The location will have scalability in mind. We’ll start with this general assembly, then for future vehicles we’d add on paint shop and the like so it will be more of a traditional production facility for higher volume.”
Not surprisingly, Mullen has big plans. McMahon says long-term goals include building a Mullen-branded vehicle from the ground up as it moves into the mid-premium EV market. Mullen is also planning to build a retail distribution network with a focus on where the electric-vehicle hotspots are and it already has multiple retail outlets up and running.
But first things first, it needs to build the car. McMahon knows from his Fisker experience that nothing’s guaranteed, although he feels like Mullen is well positioned for success. “It’s a chance for us to grow organically and show what we’re capable of.”