Europe is witnessing a new wave of cars on its roads – Chinese electric vehicles (EVs). However, these newcomers from the East aren’t just coasting; they’re faced with unique hurdles to navigate.
Rolling Up with Momentum
Chinese auto giants like BYD, Nio, and SAIC’s MG are rapidly making inroads in Europe. Recent data shows that of the new EVs bought in Europe this year, Chinese brands account for a notable 8%, a rise from 6% the previous year and 4% in 2021.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. By 2025, at least 11 mass-market EVs from China are set to debut in Europe. It’s no wonder that Carlos Tavares, the top boss at major carmaker Stellantis, highlighted a potential “invasion” of affordable Chinese EVs in Europe.
However, Chen Shihua, a key figure in China’s auto industry, offered a word of caution. “It isn’t that smooth for our automakers to go global,” he said last week. “We should pay attention to the risks … currently companies might be over-stretched, stepping into every region without a clear focus.”
Price Matters, But There’s a Catch
Chinese EVs have an edge when it comes to pricing. For perspective, while an average EV in China costs less than 32,000 euros, its European counterpart is priced around 56,000 euros. But selling cars in Europe might not be as wallet-friendly for these brands.
“Logistics, sales taxes, import duty and meeting European certification requirements all add costs,” pointed out Spiros Fotinos, who heads the Chinese brand Zeekr in Europe. Moreover, MG, a leading Chinese brand in Europe, voiced challenges in transporting cars from China to Europe due to congested ports.
Trust: The Big Challenge
Brand recognition is a significant barrier. A recent survey revealed that a chunk of potential EV buyers in Europe don’t recognize Chinese brands. For instance, only 14% of surveyed Germans were familiar with BYD, a global EV giant. On the other hand, a whopping 95% knew about Tesla, and 10% considered buying one. When it came to Chinese brands, a mere 1% (or even less) would ponder over a purchase.
Aiways, a Chinese EV startup, admitted to avoiding advertising its Chinese roots, wary of European reservations about Chinese products. But there’s a silver lining: Chinese brands aren’t settling.
They’re striving to exceed European safety standards and offering test drives to give a firsthand experience to European buyers. Zeekr’s Fotinos believes that direct interaction can change perceptions.
“When they come into contact with the product … the quality and specs are much higher. That catches them by surprise,” he reportedly remarked.
Chinese carmaker GAC even set up a design bureau in Milan, hoping to understand and adapt to European tastes. Aiways’ Klose emphasizes competing head-on: “The only way to get around (the stereotype) is to embrace the competition.”
While Chinese EVs are zooming onto European roads with enthusiasm, their journey is marked by speed bumps of brand trust and added costs. Their ambition is commendable, but whether they can secure a significant slice of the European pie remains a gripping storyline to watch.