Can AXL cut it as a full-scale EV manufacturer? A top official says talks are on with Kizad in Abu Dhabi and Dubai's JAFZA. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Can the UAE be a production base for electric cars?

One Canadian firm – AXL Electrics Vehicles – seem to think so, confirming that talks have been held with KIZAD, the industrial hub in Abu Dhabi, and Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority in Dubai for a possible facility.

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To press its claims further - and offer assurances it’s not just talk – AXL unveiled the prototype of its first model, an SUV – the Sharx-5 with a claimed range of 500 kilometres. The price? Around the Dh146,000 mark ($39,800).

“We had to keep the price at a sort of affordable-luxury level, because price is one barrier in more buyers adopting EVs,” said Ali Eslami, CEO of AXL. “What we haven’t done is introduce a model and then add extra for additional details or trims.

The $39,800 is the all-in price and we will start taking reservations.

- Ali Eslami

Price-wise, the model can indeed draw attention. Going under Dh150,000 is seen as the template to create a wider base of buyers. Some of the recently launched Chinese EV models have already set sights on getting first-mover advantage in that price range.

Still early days

Actual production is still some way off. The company will need to put the model through all of the safety tests regulators would want from the company.

But there are many in the auto industry who believe that becoming a niche EV brand within the wider global automotive market is still possible. Tesla leads, legacy manufacturers are stepping up their EV launches, Chinese brands are flexing their automotive credentials in EV – and yet, there is still space leftover for new players.

What AXL wants?

In its talks with Kizad and JAZFA, AXL has been emphasising access to an already built facility and then add its production/assembling lines. “This way we will not have to spend from scratch on building facilities and which would take a further 2-3 years before hitting the market,” said Eslami.

There are a lot of EV newbies that would like to ride into the markets in the Tesla slipstream. And more or less using the same business model.

“Sure, Tesla pioneered everything - and opened the doors for others,” said Eslami. “But the Chinese EV brand BYD hasn’t been around that long, and doing so well.” (In the UAE, BYD has just made its debut through a partnership with Al-Futtaim.)

The funding side of it

The AXL official said the company can draw on more than $100 million to get going, and then call in more investors once the proof-of-concept – the Sharx-5 – wins a buyer following.

New brands and their models show up in UAE showrooms

Can the Sharx-5 swing it?

AXL is promising first deliveries by the Spring of 2024 for the Sharx-5, a five-passenger mid-size SUV with a range of up to 500 km.

The model promises 4G internet, full-cabin-width three-screen display, an edge-to-edge glass roof, and integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, fast and universal charging abilities and over-the-air updates. For the battery, the model uses the carbon-free LFP version, sourced from China. 

On the ride side, key specs include an acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds, with a curb weight of 4,188 pounds.

"We have opened the bookings - and we will take a step by step approach towards production," said Eslami. "What we have is a model that should score - and more so because we got the price right."