Among several new car badges to appear on UK roads in 2023 will be that of Ora, likely a name you’ve never heard of. We have all you need to know about this new-to-the-UK automotive brand right here.
Like BYD Auto, which we recently profiled, Ora is among the Chinese EV brands aiming to expand into Europe and disrupt the new car sales market, offering an alternative to the brands we all know.
Ora is a brand only five years old but it is also part of Great Wall Motors (the GWM part of the company name), one of China’s established automotive manufacturers and one which has been in the UK before.
So who or what is GWM Ora?
The company name is GWM Ora, although the cars are simply branded as Ora. It’s one of several new Chinese car brands that have sprung up to make the most of the country’s lead in electric drivetrains. Ora is one of the younger brands – it was formed in 2018 as a subsidiary of Great Wall Motors, which is the eighth-largest automobile manufacturer in China.
Ora – the name stands for ‘Open, Reliable and Alternative’, was designed from the ground up to be an electric-only brand targeting younger buyers. It started sales in Europe in 2022 and finally arrived in the UK at the end of the year with its first car, the Funky Cat.
Ora has solid backing from its parent company. GWM previously had an almost unnoticed foray into the UK market a decade ago with a forgettable light pick-up called the Steed, but the company has made major progress since then on the back of the move to electric power.
GWM sold almost 1.3 million cars in 60 countries in 2021, growing more than 15% that year. In China, it’s the country’s leading brand for pick-ups and SUVs.
When did Ora launch in the UK?
Ora was supposed to launch into UK showrooms in the Autumn of 2022 but the process has taken a little longer than planned. The company’s first model, called the Funky Cat, was launched in late 2022 and started arriving in early 2023.
The brand plans to grow quickly, however. The five-star Euro NCAP safety rating for its UK launch model opens up the possibility of sales to a fleet market keen to fill rising demand for electric cars.
What models does Ora have and what else is coming?
Currently there is just one Ora model in the UK, but it’s attracting a lot of very mixed attention due to its name – called the Good Cat in Europe, the Ora marketing types felt the urge to update Good to ‘Funky’ for the UK market…
Looking beyond the name what you get is an electric hatchback, costing around £32,000 and around the size of a Volkswagen ID.3 or MG 4 – Car magazine described it as looking like the love child of a 2001 Nissan Micra and a Fiat 500.
Generally reviewers have summed up the Funky Cat as a competent first model for the brand’s UK debut. They appreciate the reasonable range just shy of 200 miles and the equipment levels including lots of high tech (though initial models don’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration), while the five-star Euro NCAP safety rating earns universal praise – particularly as the crash testers named the Funky Cat best in its class.
Others argue, however, that the car’s driving dynamics could be better and that it has too many basic irritations to seriously worry the Euro competition. As of October 2023, the Funky Cat has an Expert Rating of 52%, according to The Car Expert’s award-winning Expert Rating Index.
More variations of the Funky Cat are expected to launch this year, while a second Ora model is expected in the UK in early 2024. This will be a large-ish saloon (think BMW 3 Series or Tesla Model 3 in size), and was unveiled at last week’s Fully Charged electric vehicle show in Farnborough. It looks vaguely like an oddly proportioned mashup between a first-generation Porsche Panamera and a Bentley Continental GT. As yet it doesn’t have a name for the UK, let alone pricing or specifications.
Where can I try an Ora car?
Ora is distributed in the UK by International Motors, a long-established importer which also manages Subaru and Isuzu here. Alongside the current seven outlets where you can try a Funky Cat, the car is also available for sale online.
Those that have signed up to offer Ora sales and service centres include major dealer groups like Lookers, Peter Vardy and Chorley. As of October 2023, the company has 26 locations around the UK, which are a mix of full sales and service dealerships and a number of smaller ‘test drive centres’.
What’s particularly significant about this company?
GWM Ora has a very solid connection to today’s version of a British automotive icon. Revelling in its rapid growth, parent company Great Wall Motors has set up a joint company with BMW which is developing the next generation of the Mini.
Great Wall will assemble a new five-door electric crossover Mini variant called the Aceman at a huge new plant in Jiangsu, China. The Aceman and Funky Cat share the same underpinnings.
What makes Ora different to the rest?
GWM Ora is targeting younger buyers with its cars, which is reflected in its on-board equipment and particularly in the styling. The curvy looks of the Funky Cat, with just a slight indication of a Mini style up front, have been dubbed ‘cute’ by many reviewers.
The UK launch models of the Funky Cat include wireless phone charging, adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree parking camera, not what is expected in an affordable offering from the Far East. The as-yet-unnamed saloon unveiled at Fully Charged is expected to include facial recognition technology that sets the car to your individual driver preferences when you get in.
Ora appears to be a more niche-focused brand than rivals such as BYD Auto. The marmite name of its first UK model is clearly intended to promote a unique image, but will also mean the brand has to work harder to get customers into showrooms. Some buyers might be drawn in by the name, while others will be put off by it.
There are certainly more than a few plus points about the Funky Cat – particularly the five-star Euro NCAP rating, something Chinese brands have not been renowned for in the past. These definitely make the car worth a look, particularly for those buyers who don’t like to go with the flow and are seeking something a little different to the crowd.
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