Where Tesla Falls Down, Geely Picks Up With Its Zeekr Brand

By automotive-mag.com 8 Min Read

Once the darling of the U.S. and China, Tesla’s latest moves have had analysts, buyers, and Tesla shareholders in a tizzy. Instead of improving the brand with new products, refining its key models, or getting ahead of a hyper-competitive EV market in China, Musk has shifted to reducing headcount and even canning whole departments that comprised teams that kept important parts of the brand running, like the Supercharger network.

For now, investors seem willing to trust CEO Elon Musk’s pivot to AI and robotaxis over expanding the car lineup. But his problem is that China’s automakers are doing both.

According to Chinese sales charts, the Tesla Model Y may still be king, but for a few weeks there in March and April, the Zeekr 001 was hot on its heels. This is the trend for China’s Geely Auto as a whole. A focus on updated products and focus on tech, is what the brand thinks will put the screws to the entire Chinese EV market, including Tesla. 

Is Zeekr shaping up to be the ultimate competition Tesla never expected?

(Full Disclosure: I recently traveled to the Beijing Auto Show as a guest of the Geely Group, where I tested several of the automaker’s different EVs from various brands. Travel and lodging were provided.)

I’ve driven the Zeekr 001 before. It’s an electric wagon-shaped crossover that Zeekr says was inspired by the Porsche Panamera. It was the first vehicle on the Geely SEA (Sustainable Experience Architecture) platform, a chassis that underpins a lot of Geely’s electric cars including the Polestar 4. The Zeekr 001 isn’t all that new of a car, it was introduced in 2021, but for 2024, the model was facelifted. Of course, there were improvements to the interior, as well as some mild exterior tweaks as what’s customary with any vehicle facelift. 

However, the real story is of the 001’s under-the-skin improvements.

“Over 1,000 parts (more than 50% of all parts) have been upgraded to offer its best performance to our customers,” a Geely rep told me over email. This includes new interior pieces as well as significant mechanical upgrades to the 001. The air suspension and adaptive dampers have been revised, it has new silicon-carbide motors at the front and rear, and all Zeekr 001s use an 800V architecture which improves efficiency and charging speeds.

As a result, the 001 is currently in a battle with the Li Auto Mega for the title of the world’s fastest-charging EV, with the Zeekr able to peak at a staggering 546 kW while DC fast charging. The upgrades tangibly feel nice, too. From my quick time on track with the updated 001 feels that much more agile and dialed in compared to the already fantastic old car.

There’s one big piece on the 001 that might have made the most difference – the megacasted rear section of the chassis. Yep, just like Tesla, Zeekr (and by extension, Geely) leaned into the benefits of giga- and megacasting and implemented it for this variant of the SEA platform. For this variant, the floorpan of the 001 and 009 are shared, meaning that both cars now use a megacast single-unit rear end. 

ZEEKR Mega-casting-4

The megacasting process is interesting. Hot aluminum is injected into a mold, forming the shape that comprises the back third of the car. The piece cools quickly, and then machines cut out a provision for the optional air suspension and deburr all the rough edges formed during the casting process.

That completed piece is removed from the mold and then carted off to a storage room to eventually be mated to the rest of the chassis. Because SEA is so modular, this die-cast rear section is used on four models, the Zeekr 001 shooting brake, the Zeekr 007 sedan, Volvo EM90 van, and Zeekr 009 van. Curiously, it’s not used on the Polestar 4, which is on the same chassis and made in the same factory as the Zeekr and Volvo products.


Ruiping Wang, the Vice President of Geely Auto Group, said that one of the brand’s biggest goals is to increase parts commonality and lower development costs amongst models along all its brands, including Volvo and Polestar. The megacasting is one of the ways to do this.

Geely (and Zeekr) want to add more megacasting equipment to its Hangzhou Bay plant, and then megacast more parts on the SEA platform. Currently, only the rear section is megacasted, but Geely’s representatives say there is potential for the front portion of the SEA chassis to also be megacasted. Either way, more cars made by Geely should get megacasted chassis parts.

ZEEKR Mega-casting-2

Is it working? Maybe. Numbers for Zeekr’s brand this year show that profit margins have increased some, while the cost of building its vehicles has gone down. The brand may have been unprofitable for a long while, but Zeekr itself says that it plans to break even this year. 

Add in the lower pricing on some of the top trims this time around, and it’s very easy to understand why Chinese buyers are buying the car in droves. You could see it at the factory, although Geely’s Hangzhou plant produces the 009, EM90, and Polestar 4, the overwhelming majority of cars making their way down the line were 001’s.

On the streets of Beijing, Zeekr stores were packed with people examining the 001 closely. Sales are so strong that Zeekr executives plan on adding a shift to the Hangzhou Bay plant to keep up with demand.

Building a car is hard, the road to growth and profitability aren’t always big grandiose gestures. Rather, it’s made up of ugly, boring, but smart changes. From what I saw, Geely seems to get that the Chinese market is highly competitive, and its buyers value the newness of products. Thus, it’s trying to find ways out ways to quickly assess, implement, and meet the needs of Chinese consumers.

If Tesla—and, frankly, the other so-called “foreign” automakers—can’t do the same, the era of China printing money will end just as fast.

Contact the author: [email protected]   

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