China’s EV makers, which raced past foreign rivals to top sales rankings at home, are arriving in Europe and facing new challenges. Stereotypes of Chinese manufacturing, import costs, and a less developed EV market are just some of the hurdles that companies such as BYD (002594. SZ), Nio (9866. HK), and SAICs MG (600104. SS) will have to overcome to thrive in the continent.
The companies face a more difficult task in the United States, where trade tensions with Beijing have created political obstacles that may slow or even halt the rollout of Chinese-made cars. But the Chinese are determined to win global EV dominance, and a first-mover advantage in Europe could give them a leg up over more established players.
As China EV manufacturers move into Europe, they will face steeper capital outlays than their Western counterparts, which may dampen enthusiasm among consumers for high-priced models such as Teslas Model X and Y. Moreover, the cost of raw materials such as lithium, graphite, and nickel is much higher in Europe than in China.
Despite the price gap, the Chinese EV makers have a crucial advantage in their ability to mass-produce vehicles. They also have a good understanding of the technology behind them and are likely to focus on software integration between a car, its battery, and the power grid. Experts say this will help them differentiate themselves from more traditional automakers and build brand loyalty.
Many Chinese brands are already expanding their reach in Europe, with BYD, whose vehicles include the four-seater Wuling Hongguang mini EV, leading sales. The company is also ramping up production in Australia, India, and Latin America. In contrast, the European market is dominated by a handful of legacy automakers, including Volkswagen, Peugeot, and Ford, which rely on the luxury segment to drive sales.
Another challenge for the Chinese EV makers is that they still need to develop their supply chains, leaving them dependent on outside suppliers. This can create uncertainty over quality, delivery time, and other factors. Nevertheless, some analysts believe Chinese companies can overcome this issue using different business models.
For example, some of them are establishing their battery factories. Others, such as Nio and Xpeng, have formed partnerships with foreign producers, enabling them to tap into the expertise of their foreign partners.
In addition, the EV industry is changing quickly, creating new opportunities for all players. For example, developing new battery technologies is helping companies improve their range and efficiency while lowering their cost. This is a huge benefit for companies working towards an ambitious goal, such as China, which wants to see all new vehicles sold in the country be electric by 2030. Lastly, new consumer trends, including self-driving cars, are driving demand for EVs across the globe. Therefore, a strong position in the global EV market is crucial for companies such as BYD and Nio.