China’s share of Europe’s electric car market accelerates as UK leads sales | Automotive industry

China’s share of the European electric car market has more than doubled in less than two years as the world’s second largest economy tries to take the lead in the transition away from petrol and diesel cars.

The UK is the largest market in Europe for Chinese electric car brands, accounting for almost a third of sales in 2023 so far, according to data from Schmidt Automotive Research on the 18 largest European car markets. About 5% of all new car sales in the UK were from Chinese brands in the first seven months of 2023, a market share second only to Sweden.

Sales are accelerating: Chinese carmakers sold almost the same number of electric cars in Europe in the first seven months of 2023 as they did in the entirety of 2022.

Chinese brands have long struggled to break into Europe because of a reputation for lower-quality cars. However, some analysts believe the advent of new battery electric technology has wiped the slate clean for Chinese brands, and sales are booming.

The battery and carmaker BYD, which is backed by the US investor Warren Buffett, is the biggest maker of electric cars worldwide barring the US manufacturer Tesla. The state-owned SAIC and the private car conglomerate Geely are also vying with a host of electric-only startups such as Nio and Xpeng for a slice of the growing global market.

BMW boss Oliver Zipse
The BMW chief executive, Oliver Zipse, said on Sunday that Chinese carmakers posed an ‘imminent risk’ to the European industry. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The share of Chinese cars in the total European car market has risen from 0.1% in 2019 to 2.8% in the first seven months of 2023, Schmidt said. But it is clear that Chinese companies are targeting electric vehicles in particular: the share of the market for pure battery electric cars rose from 0.5% in 2019 to 3.9% in 2021. So far this year, Chinese manufacturers have won 8.2% of the European electric car market, selling 86,000 battery electric cars.

The rapid rise of Chinese carmakers has set off alarm bells in Europe, where millions of people work in car manufacturing. China also has a significant advantage because it has the lead in production of batteries, leaving European industry reliant on a geopolitical rival until it builds its own “gigafactories”.

The BMW chief executive, Oliver Zipse, on Sunday said Chinese carmakers posed an “imminent risk” to the European industry, particularly for the makers of cheaper models.

“The base car market segment will either vanish or will not be done by European manufacturers,” he told the Financial Times, as carmakers gathered in Munich, Germany, for an automotive conference that is also being attended by several Chinese brands.

Xpeng used the Munich conference to announce that it was planning to sell its cars in Germany. Brian Gu, Xpeng’s vice-chairman said it was an “important step on our international expansion journey”.

One notable Chinese brand in the UK is MG. The MG marque was founded in the 1920s but the brand was taken over by SAIC after MG Rover collapsed in 2005, after decades of decline for the UK industry’s prominence. The Longbridge factory that made MG cars for decades has been replaced by housing and a Marks & Spencer.

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SAIC has launched a series of Chinese-made MG electric cars, which have proved very popular in the UK in part because of relatively low prices. The MG4 EV was the second bestselling electric car in the UK in the first seven months of 2023, behind Tesla’s Model Y SUV, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Matthias Schmidt, the founder of Schmidt Automotive Research, said: “The success in the UK of MG, which belongs to the China-state-owned SAIC, can partly be attributed to the fact that the brand, celebrating its centennial year this year, sees the UK as its ancestral home with a major design studio in London.

MG Cyberster press image
MG hopes to build on the brand’s racing heritage with the Cyberster. Photograph: © 2023 Copyright MG Motor group

“Many UK customers may be unaware that MG is anything else but UK-owned, while MG’s new roadster, the Cyberster, will do even more to add to its British racing heritage image among many.”

The third top electric seller in the UK, the Polestar 2, is also made in China.


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