While a few Chinese car brands have already made their way to Europe, the true influx of Chinese automakers is still on the horizon. Several brands are gearing up to launch their vehicles in the EU.
China has indeed witnessed remarkable progress in the automotive industry in recent years. Gone are the days of cheap and inferior imitations. At the Shanghai trade fair, it became evident once again that European manufacturers need to step up their game to avoid falling behind.
Chinese automakers no longer settle for making slight improvements to combustion engines; instead, they are focusing on electric mobility and making significant investments in the development of high-performance battery cells. One of the significant advancements expected from China is the introduction of the first mass-produced model featuring a sodium-ion battery. Several established Chinese brands are actively involved in this pursuit.
Some notable Chinese manufacturers that are investing in electric mobility and battery technology include BYD Auto, NIO, Xpeng Motors, Geely Auto, and Great Wall Motors. These companies are at the forefront of China’s push towards electrification and are poised to make a significant impact on the global automotive market, including in Europe.
Dimensions of the Chinese car market
The scale of the Chinese market needs to be redefined as it surpasses that of many other countries. Germany, for instance, registers between 2.6 and 3 million new cars annually, while the entire European Union sees approximately 9 to 10 million new registrations. In contrast, the Chinese market, which continues to grow rapidly, accounts for around 23 million new car sales per year.
For many years, Volkswagen enjoyed tremendous success in China, holding the position of market leader. However, it appears that this dominance may soon come to an end. In the first quarter of 2023, Volkswagen experienced a decline in car sales, while Build Your Dreams (BYD) saw a significant increase.
While Volkswagen continues to find success with its combustion engine vehicles, the demand for such cars is dwindling among Chinese consumers, who are increasingly opting for alternative powertrain options in their new vehicles.
Volkswagen is facing strong competition from BYD in the Chinese market. BYD has been gaining traction in Asia and is also experiencing modest growth in Europe. The brand is set to make its entry into the European Union with models such as the Atto 3, Han, and Tang.
In China, BYD offers luxurious SUVs like the Yangwang U8 and the U9 sports car, both of which belong to the upper-class segment. It is worth noting that the BYD brand itself is relatively young, as it was founded by Chuanfu Wang in 1995 with only 20 employees. Within five years, BYD became the market leader in rechargeable batteries, showcasing its rapid rise in the industry.
Geely is a well-known brand among car enthusiasts in Europe, particularly due to its acquisition of Volvo, which resulted in a remarkable comeback for the Swedish automaker. Volvo, known for its stylish and independent designs and high-quality interiors, has successfully established itself as a luxury brand.
Geely has also entered into a partnership with Mercedes and is currently revitalizing the Smart brand. The new Smart models have significantly deviated from the original concept of a tiny city car. For instance, the Zeekr X, measuring 4.45 meters in length, shares the versatile SEA platform (Sustainable Experimental Architecture) with the Smart #1. The Zeekr 001, a shooting brake model that is nearly five meters long, is also based on this platform.
The specifications of these models are quite impressive, boasting 400 kW of power and batteries with capacities ranging from 86 to 100 kWh. The internal charger is designed to handle peak charging power of 360 kW, enabling a range of 120 km to be recharged in just five minutes.
Lynk & Co
Lynk & Co, which is also a part of the Geely Group, has primarily been available in many markets through subscription models or car rental companies. However, at the Shanghai trade fair, the manufacturer confidently announced “a new episode,” hinting at potential developments that could include the series production of the sports car concept showcased.
Additionally, models such as the Lynk & Co 08 or 09 also have the potential to appeal to European customers. With their introduction, Lynk & Co aims to expand its presence in the European market and offer a wider range of models to cater to different customer preferences.
Lotus is set to release the Lotus Eletre, an electric SUV, in the autumn. The base model of the Eletre will boast 450 kW of power, while the top model will have an impressive 675 kW.
It’s worth noting that the upcoming models from Lotus deviate significantly from the original vision of the brand’s founder. Instead of focusing on lightweight minimalism, Lotus is launching a heavyweight SUV under the name Lotus, which seems to contradict the core values the brand once represented.
Despite this shift, the Lotus Eletre is already available for order, with an entry-level model priced at just under 96,000 euros. Deliveries are expected to commence in the summer of 2023.
Xpeng and HiPhi
Xpeng and HiPhi have plans to enter the European market. Both brands are known for offering high-quality vehicles, which come with a corresponding higher price tag. HiPhi is backed by Human Horizons and currently offers models like the HiPhi X and the Z in their domestic market, with the upcoming addition of the new Y model.
HiPhi has selected Munich and Oslo as their two European locations, from which they plan to commence their first deliveries this year. These strategic choices indicate their focus on key European markets for their expansion.
Great Wall Motors
Great Wall Motors is indeed a prominent player in the Chinese market, with a wide range of brands and partnerships. One notable collaboration is with BMW through their joint venture company, Spotlight Automotive, which is responsible for bringing the next generation of Mini vehicles to the market. Great Wall Motors also owns the Ora and Wey brands, each targeting different segments of buyers.
Ora aims to establish itself as a trendy electric brand, focusing on electric vehicles with a fashionable appeal. On the other hand, Wey competes in the market with both combustion engine vehicles and plug-in hybrids, catering to customers who have preferences beyond solely electric mobility. This diverse brand portfolio allows Great Wall Motors to cater to a broad range of customer preferences and market segments.
Nio and MG
Nio and MG have indeed made their way into the European market. MG, in particular, focuses on the mass market segment and currently offers models such as the MG 4, MG 5, and the Marvel R. While they may not offer the latest cutting-edge technology, they do provide comparatively affordable prices, addressing a gap that European manufacturers have been neglecting.
This strategy could potentially have repercussions, as the prices of new electric cars from European manufacturers are notably higher. As a rough comparison, an Opel Corsa-e now exceeds 36,000 euros, and the least expensive VW ID.3 is just under 40,000 euros. This puts them in close competition with the Tesla Model 3, which, with fees and environmental bonuses included, currently starts at around 42,970 euros in the German configurator.
Tesla has recently implemented multiple price cuts to increase its market share in various regions, including China. Although these price reductions have impacted Tesla’s profit margins, the strategy appears to be working, as Tesla has achieved significant market share in China. With approximately 455,000 units of the Model Y sold, Tesla became the second best-selling car brand in China.
China should not be underestimated
The German manufacturers in China are far away from such figures. The dynamics of the Chinese market cannot be easily replicated in Europe, as European customers prioritize different values that are well-managed by European manufacturers.
Factors such as chassis coordination, superior craftsmanship, appealing designs, and a dense dealer network contribute to the strength of European manufacturers in their home market. However, industry insiders acknowledge that relying solely on these factors may not be enough to effectively compete with the growing competition.
The successful entry of Japanese and Korean manufacturers into the European market in the past involved them adopting and adapting concepts from local manufacturers, offering a competitive price-to-performance ratio. China’s arrival in Europe coincides with a period of significant change, where new players are striving to make their mark. European manufacturers recognize the need to adapt to this evolving landscape and consider factors beyond their traditional strengths to effectively respond to the challenges posed by Chinese automakers.