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X Electrical Vehicle, from Italy, says it is edging closer to mass production in China of its low-speed 3D-printed cars, which could now be hitting the streets by the second quarter of 2019, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

Guo Xiaozheng, a senior designer at the firm also known as XEV, said the electric car – expected to sell at 60,000 yuan (US$9,478) – will have a maximum speed of 70 kilometres per hour and a range of 150km.

“China is the biggest market for our cars,” he told the South China Morning Post. “Talks with several mainland industrial zones to set up production lines are now at a late stage.”

A prototype of the car, the LSEV, is currently on display at Shanghai’s China 3D-printing Culture Museum, before being exhibited at Auto China 2018 in Beijing next month.

The company claims it is the world’s first mass-produced 3D-printed electric vehicle, and that it has received 7,000 orders from companies including postal service providers.

Nearly all its visible parts are 3D-printed except for its windows, tyres and chassis.

3D printing is a manufacturing process where materials are joined or solidified under computer control to create three-dimensional objects.

Technically, the manufacturing process often shortens research and development time and can offer customers tailor-made products.

XEV was the brainchild of Guo and a handful of Chinese auto industry professionals, and started less than a year ago. They claim to be able to create a new model in just four months.

He added that Beijing plans to introduce new rules governing low-speed electric vehicles by the second half of this year, after which it is likely to begin distributing manufacturing licences for such cars.

“We will target both the business and customer markets,” Guo said. “Production costs can be slashed further as volume increases and by 2024, the total costs for our cars will be cut by half.”

The LSEV is essentially made of polyamide, commonly known as nylon. Guo said XEV has partnered with Polymaker, a Shanghai-based new material developer, to upgrade the material to make the car more flexible but also more stable.

The two-seater weighs just 450 kilograms, nearly half that of a similar sized, conventional vehicle.

A single production line – complete with 3D printers and assembly facilities – will be able to handle the building of 500 cars annually.

“We can have several production lines at one industrial base,” he said. “They are easy to set up and are not expensive.”

Sales of new-energy vehicles, both electric cars and plug-in hybrids, surged after 2014 in China after the government offered subsidies to support their manufacture and sales in an effort to protect against growing levels of car emissions.

A clutch of start-ups appeared with ambitions expansion plans for the mainland market, including NIO which launched its ES8 seven-seater electric vehicle in December, and Iconiq Motors which plans to start production in 2019 of its seven-seater Iconiq 7.

“We are bullish on XEV because it turns 3D printing into real productivity,” said Zhu Li, director of China 3D-printing Culture Museum.

“The car has made people believe 3D printing is smart manufacturing technology that will eventually affect their everyday lives.”

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Self-driving cars will hit the roads in China “within three to five years”, the founder of Chinese internet giant Baidu, one of the world's leading designers of driverless cars, said and reported Dawn (Pakistan).

That is a lot sooner than predicted by China's information technology minister, who last week said it would only be a reality in eight to 10 years, citing constraints related to security.

“I'm more optimistic than him, I think it will come sooner,” Baidu Chief Executive Officer Robin Li said in Beijing on the sidelines of a consultative political assembly of which he is a member.

Baidu, often referred to as China's Google, operates the country's leading search engine and also invests heavily in services ranging from online payments to connected devices and artificial intelligence.

Like Google, the Chinese company is spending on research and development to put a driverless car on the road.

In 2019, in cooperation with local manufacturers, the Beijing-based company plans to launch a car featuring “a high degree of autonomy,” Li told reporters.

“Highly automated driving means ... for example, on a Beijing to Shanghai trip, as long as you stay on the highway, you will not have to worry about anything — you can eat hotpot or sing inside while you're waiting to arrive,” he said.

The driver would still, however, need to take the wheel again as soon as the car moved away from major highways.

“But in the next three to five years, I believe totally autonomous cars will make their appearance on the roads,” he said.

In September the company established a $1.5 billion fund dedicated to developing driverless cars.

It also manages an open platform where it shares its technologies with designers and builders.

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