EV competition in China is so fierce that built-in fridges are passé and Tesla-beating BYD offers drones and gaming-friendly detachable steering wheels

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In China, electric vehicles with built-in fridges and even in-car karaoke systems are considered passé. Instead, carmakers are turning to increasingly novel add-ons from beds to cooktops to boost sluggish sales.

Top EV makers are facing a slowdown in demand at home as consumers curb spending, just as geopolitical tensions with major Western economies cloud the outlook for exports. Meanwhile for smaller players, the ability to think creatively is core to their survival, with the cut-throat industry bracing for a likely wave of consolidation as China looks to rein in the excesses left behind by years of generous subsidies.

The high-tech offerings also highlight the risk for Western manufacturers should they fall even further behind in carving out market share in the world’s biggest auto market. China-made vehicles are viewed by local customers as better suited to their extensive technology demands and preference for high levels of connectivity.

Read more: Chinese EVs seen as status symbols are being bought new in countries where they aren’t officially sold yet thanks to a loophole

“While legacy automakers still only focus on the drivability of a car, Chinese companies are not satisfied with that,” Wang Binggang, an Xpeng Inc. salesperson, said in a showroom in central Shanghai. “We are extending the possibilities to all kinds of living and recreational scenarios, and that’s part of the reason why customers love e-cars these days.”

Here’s a look at some of the offbeat offerings now available in China:

1. Sleeping Kits

Just one click on the in-car display in Xpeng’s G9, an SUV with a starting price at 263,900 yuan ($36,700), and it turns into a bed that comfortably sleeps two people.

Drivers who install the so-called sleeping kit feature are able to make both front and back seats lay completely flat, then watch as a double-size air mattress unfolds and is automatically inflated. The company is looking to muscle in on China’s increasingly popular camping culture, but the car may also prove a hit with desk jockeys enduring the country’s notoriously grueling office hours and looking for a place to nap.

The feature was an unexpected savior for some families during February’s Lunar New Year holiday. Long waits at charging stations, traffic jams that lasted for hours and snowstorms that left tens of thousands of drivers stranded across the country saw many in sudden need of a safe place to sleep.

2. In Sync Heartbeat

One of the most notable features of an electric vehicle is how much quieter, and smoother to accelerate, it is compared with a combustion-engine car. But the downside is that it can cause or worsen motion sickness. And the way an EV’s brakes work can also add to the feeling of imbalance for some drivers and passengers.

Hangzhou-based Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. says it has solved that problem in its Galaxy E8 electric sedan, which vibrates at 1.25 hertz — the same as a human heartbeat — when the car is driving on undulating terrain.

The car, which went on sale on Jan. 5 and starts at $24,450, also has a braking system that minimizes the jerking sensation often noticed by people when they first start driving an EV.

3. Tailgate Ready

Li Auto Inc.’s L-Series has become one of the most popular SUV ranges in China, offering spacious interiors, extended-range capabilities and in-built massagers in its seats. While that’s seen sales boom, it’s also given rise to challengers looking to make their own mark among the country’s middle-class families.

That includes Rox Motor Tech, a startup established in 2021 by the founder of a robot vacuum maker, which is looking to win over lovers of the outdoors. Its first production model, the Polestones 01, includes a rear-mounted camping-style kitchen with an induction cooker and water dispenser.

It’s also got a sun canopy that attaches to the roof, which the carmaker says can be assembled, or taken down and stowed away, in minutes. The car costs $48,700.

4. Drones

BYD Co., the world’s largest EV manufacturer, is looking to make its premium $153,000 Yangwang U8 more enticing for tech fans.

Its partnership with Shenzhen-based drone giant DJI allows a small craft to launch from and land on a retractable case mounted to the roof and it can even fly back to dock once the car reaches its final destination. Movements are controlled on the in-car display screen, and an in-built system can charge the drone’s three batteries and swap cells when the power runs down.

The drone is programmed to follow the car’s route and captures high-definition images. That allows drivers to obtain real-time aerial views of their surrounds, while they can also produce short videos on their in-car screen.

5. In-Car Gaming

In-car gaming is an increasingly widespread offering. Tesla Inc. added video game platform Steam into its system in 2022, while Li Auto allows drivers and passengers to connect their Nintendo Co.’s Switch to the car’s system.

BYD has taken it one step further. Its redesigned steering wheel can be detached, allowing drivers to use it in conjunction with the car’s pedals to play video games on the in-car display.

Read More: Australia is showing us what happens when Tesla-beating BYD faces no tariffs and is free to grow 

While the technology has proved popular, it’s also given rise to concerns that it’s distracting and could cause crashes. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year closed a probe into Tesla’s in-vehicle game-play functionality after the automaker disabled the “Passenger Play” feature.

Chinese EV makers have implemented restrictions, including only allowing games to be played when a car is stationary with the engine off.

What’s Next?

The best, or quirkiest, are yet to come.

Geely and its EV brand Zeekr applied for a patent for a vehicle-mounted fishing system that includes a line and hook. Location sensors on the car will give the driver information on the depth and flow rate of nearby bodies of water, as well as historical data to help determine the best fishing spot. A device will enable long-distance and more precise casting and, when a fish bites, the vehicle will reel it in.

Meanwhile, SAIC Corp.’s IM Motors has filed an intellectual property application for an in-car plant-care system, which will collect rain from the roof and water generated by the vehicle’s cooling system. Software will recognize different plant varieties and calculate the best timing and volume of water to sustain them.

The ambitions signal automakers’ emphasis on innovation will continue even in the face of an uncertain consumer demand outlook.

“In the EV era, China is attempting to redefine premium,” said Bill Russo, founder and chief executive officer of Shanghai-based advisory firm Automobility. “They may come up with some real off-the-wall ideas, but that’s what experimentation is all about.”

— With assistance from Charlie Zhu, Chunying Zhang, Linda Lew, and Danny Lee

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