World’s cheapest electric car could launch in South Africa

Chinese electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer BYD appears to have plans to bring its cheapest passenger EV to South Africa.

MyBroadband recently discovered a filing for the trademark “BYD Dolphin Mini” on the Companies and Intellectual Properties (CIPC) database.

The filing, submitted by BYD Automotive on 2 January 2024, is currently pending approval.

According to CarNewsChina, Dolphin Mini is an alternative name used for the Seagull hatchback, officially confirmed by BYD as its preferred branding for international markets.

BYD made headlines when it launched the Seagull in China at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2023.

With prices ranging from 73,800 yuan to 89,800 yuan, it is the cheapest passenger EV in the world. Directly converted to rand, the starting price of the Seagull works out to roughly R196,086.

The car quickly raked in customers to top BYD’s fully-electric sales list, with 280,217 units delivered in China in 2023.

BYD Seagull/Dolphin Mini

Outside of China, BYD has launched the Seagull as the Dolphin Mini in Uruguay and will begin sales in Brazil at the end of February 2024.

It has also filed for the “Dolphin Mini” trademark in India.

The five-door, four-seater Seagull/Dolphin Mini boasts a 55kW front motor with a maximum torque of 135Nm, supporting acceleration from 0–100km/h in 13 seconds.

The car features a smaller battery than most modern medium-sized EVs — which generally boast 50kWh–80kWh packs.

BYD offers the entry-level Dolphin Mini with a 30.08kWh battery, providing up to 305km of range on the CLTC cycle.

This measurement tends to overestimate range compared to the more generally-accepted WLTP cycle.

Given the typical differences between these two standards, the entry-level model is expected to offer about 200km of range on the WLTP cycle.

BYD Seagull/Dolphin Mini rear

Another variant with a slightly larger 38.88kWh pack has a CLTC range of 405km, which should provide around 300km of WLTP range.

Real-world range is typically 65–80% of the claimed WLTP range.

In Brazil, dealers have set the starting price of the Dolphin Mini at 99,800 Brazilian Real, working out to about R384,000 at the time of publication.

That is quite a bit more expensive than its Chinese price.

BYD Seagull/Dolphin Mini interior

To get an indicative price for the Dolphin Mini in South Africa, we compared our starting price for a BYD model already available in South Africa — the Atto 3 — to that of China’s equivalent model — the Yuan Plus.

In China, the Yuan Plus costs 139,800 yuan, working out to about R373,841 in South Africa.

That is nearly half the price of the Atto 3, which carries a starting price tag of R768,000.

If the taxes, shipping costs, and other additional fees add up to the same 105% margin over the Chinese price of the Dolphin Mini, it could end up costing around R403,000.

It should be emphasised that this is purely a rough estimate.

Given that the BYD model that slots in above the Dolphin Mini — the regular Dolphin — is expected to launch at R550,000 in South Africa, it seems like a reasonable guess.

That would make it substantially cheaper than all the other EVs currently on sale in South Africa, but still over double the price of petrol models with similar size and power.

However, the Dolphin Mini comes packed with tech typically only found in higher-end models — including adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and automatic emergency braking,

The table below estimates what the price of the BYD Dolphin Mini could be if it launches in South Africa.

Possible price of Seagull/Dolphin Mini in South Africa
Atto 3/Yuan Plus Dolphin
Chinese starting price 73,800 yuan (R196,086) 109,900 yuan (R292,100)
South African starting price R768,000 R550,000
Margin on a percentage basis 105% 88%
Speculative South African price of Dolphin Mini R403,000 R369,214

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World’s cheapest electric car could launch in South Africa