18 Jan 23

Chinese dominance in the European EV market: Is it happening?

While the price tag of European EVs is rising, government-supported Chinese brands are preparing to test the resilience of Europe’s giants with their much cheaper cars. 

“The market is wide open to the Chinese”. These were the words of Stellantis chief executive Carlos Tavares at last year’s Paris Motor Show, signaling an upcoming storm. 

From big players in the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) market to start-ups, Chinese companies are now flocking to Europe, trying to meet the expectations of European customers at most. Looking at some statistics, the increasing flow of EVs from China to Europe is not surprising: 

EV sales tripled in China in 2021, reaching 3.3 million, while in Europe, sales hit 2.3 million, according to the International Energy Association (IEA). Europe and China represented over 85% of the global EV sales in 2021, says IAE. Of the two, China is slowly but steadily turning into Europe’s new energy vehicle (NEV) supplier, while Europe is trying to shake its giants to avoid losing ground. But the latter might be problematic for Europe, while China has already launched an all-out investment strategy. 

The price advantage

Being the third-largest auto market and the second-biggest EV market, Europe is the perfect springboard for Chinese EV brands to become global: 

  • European customers and companies seek affordable EVs
  • Tolerance to long waiting times is almost exhausted,
  • Safety concerns over Chinese EVs have diminished.

Indeed, meeting safety and low-budget expectations are the most significant achievements of Chinese brands, which now offer several models with varying prices. This ability to provide EVs at low-budget and even at premium car level is a vital advantage for Chinese brands, which appear as a loyalty test for European customers and satisfy them with their traditional, luxury car taste. 

For instance, BYD, planning to sell four million vehicles globally in 2023, unveiled the price of the Atto 3 at €38,000, while Han and Tang EV models start at 72,000. On the other hand, Great Wall’s Funky Cat model will sell at around 32,000 pounds (€41,500), around 5,000 pounds (€5,700 ) cheaper than Volkswagen ID.4 in the UK, according to Reuters

Talking to Reuters at the CES convention, CEO Patrick Koller says, “Europe wouldn’t be able to stop the inflow of good Chinese vehicles.” The vehicles are not just good but affordable: According to vehicle supplier company Forvia, a Chinese EV is around €10,000 cheaper than a European EV. 

Balances are shifting 

Center of Automotive Management (CAM) figures present the new balance emerging in the global EV market. In the first half of 2022, Tesla appeared as the dominant brand with 565,000 sales. BYD followed Tesla with 324,000 sales, followed by SAIC with 321,000 sales. Volkswagen appeared fourth with 217,000 sales. In the top twelve sellers, there were five Chinese EV makers, along with Geely (125,000 unit sales), Xpeng (69,000 unit sales) and Nio (51,000 sales). 

Another figure on EV exports from China to Europe from Carsalesbase, Eurostat, and MERICS (the image below) shows that between January 2021 and March 2022, Chinese-owned brands (including Geely-owned Stellantis) grabbed 35% of the market, while Chinese brands had 2%. European joint ventures appeared at 14%, while Tesla dominated the market at 49%. 

Auto consultancy company Inovev figures show the Chinese reached 5.8% of the European EV market within the first nine months of 2022. Inovev predicts EV sales in Europe to represent 40% of all car sales by 2030 and Chinese brands to grab up to 20% of the market, reaching sales figures between 725,000 and 1.16 million vehicles. 

No more safety concern 

There are complementary factors supporting the optimistic figures above. Some include the government subsidies offered by the Chinese government, even covering losses to support penetration in the European market. Another is the battery advantage: Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research says China could grab 15% of the European battery market by 2025. 

Other than the price and costs, Chinese brands win on safety and enjoy strong trade ties with Europe, compared to the US. After failing in crash tests in the early 2000s, now almost all Chinese carmakers are receiving top ratings in European New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), eliminating safety concerns, adding on to them: Funky Cat’s (image below) advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), facial recognition, reverse camera and additional airbags is one example.

Changing the European mindset 

In a report, Transport & Environment underlined the lack of regulatory incentives in Europe, slowing the electrification of local carmakers but providing a great opportunity for Chinese brands to grow. By 2025 the report says, 18% of the European EV market could be China’s. 

Nio, BYD and Xpeng are the leading Chinese brands in Europe; the first two started sales in Norway in 2021, and the latter opened branches in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. 

Especially for BYD, which success in Europe means better rivaling Tesla, Europe is critical. The continent acts as a testing ground for every EV-related tech and customer behavior while offering a vast potential for corporate fleets. The 100,000 EV order of Sixt from BYD last October clearly shows this potential. Also, Nio’s battery-swapping business can flourish, as the number of swapping stations jumped to 20 in Germany by the end of 2022, according to Deutsche Welle. Germany plans another 100 in 2023. 

From the perspective of manufacturers, perhaps the regulations carry the utmost priority. “We don’t want to have Chinese neighbors that sell at a loss in Europe and then put the automotive industry on their knees", Tavares warned. 

The main photo shows BYD Dolphin, courtesy of Shutterstock; the in-article photo is courtesy of Great Wall Motor.

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen