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China's Li Auto pins hopes on first all-electric model

FILE PHOTO: People stand near the logo of Chinese EV maker Li Auto at a product launch event in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) - Li Auto officially launched on Friday its first pure electric model MEGA multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), which founder and CEO Li Xiang expects to become the Chinese electric vehicle startup's top seller among cars priced above half a million yuan.

The company also unveiled some higher-priced new versions in its existing L series, despite a protracted price war in the sector, and announced plans to invest at least 6 billion yuan ($833.6 million) in the coming years to build more than 5,000 directly operated 5C charging stations.

The new family flagship MEGA Max, touted by Li as the fastest-charging mass-produced car, goes for 559,800 yuan, and deliveries will start on March 11.

The MEGA, dubbed by company as the "highway bullet train" due to its streamlined bullet-style shape, can travel 500 kilometres (311 miles) on a 12-minute charge.

The EV startup also took the wraps off new versions of its L series of hybrid SUVs - the L7, L8 and L9. It hiked prices for a new version of the L7 Pro by 2.9% and the new L8 Pro by 2.8%.

By comparison, U.S. EV giant Tesla and local heavyweight BYD have both delved deeper into a protracted price war.

The official launch of Li Auto's first all-electric model, first unveiled at the Guangzhou auto show in November, came after the nine-year-old automaker beat fourth quarter earnings estimates on Monday as it posted its first year of profitability in 2023.

The company expected first quarter deliveries to range between 100,000 and 103,000 vehicles, a 90.2-95.9% rise from a year earlier but down 21.9-24.1% from the previous quarter.

At Friday's event, founder Li also said that "our goal is to, within three years, enable all staffers at Li Auto factories to get paid at same levels as that in developed industrial nations such as Japan and Germany."

The company's frontline workers at its Beijing and Changzhou factories, including ex-servicemen and fresh graduates, are paid 30% higher than the local factory sector average, according to Li.

($1 = 7.1980 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Qiaoyi Li, Zhang Yan and Brenda Goh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Susan Fenton)

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