Yokohama, Japan (AP) — Osamu Furukawa has driven a lot of Japanese cars for his work converting classic gasoline-powered models into electric ones. But his favorite ride is an import: a battery-powered SUV from China’s BYD Auto.
BYD Auto is part of a wave of electric vehicle exporters in China Which began to compete with Western and Japanese brands in their local markets. They bring fast developing technology and low prices You’re “intimidating,” Tesla’s CFO says.
Furukawa said he ordered the ATTO 3 when it went on sale Jan. 31, for its easy-to-use features and attractive price of 4.4 million yen ($33,000) — or about a quarter less than a Tesla.
“It’s perfect,” Furukawa said in his office in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo.
Other ambitious Chinese exporters of electric vehicles include NIO and Zeekr of Geely and Aura Group, a unit of SUV maker Great Wall Motors.
Some compete on price. Others emphasize performance and features, putting pressure on premium Western and Japanese brands.
NIO, which has persuaded buyers in China to pay Tesla-level sticker prices of up to 555,000 yuan ($80,000), says its latest SUV will go on sale this year in Europe. The ES6 features voice-activated controls and a range of up to 610 kilometers (380 miles) on a single charge.
“We are very confident that the ES6 will compete in the luxury SUV market,” William Lee, founder and CEO of NIO, said in an interview at the Shanghai Auto Show.
Sales of battery-powered and hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles in China doubled last year, to 6.9 million vehicles.or half of the global total.
This has been backed by billions of dollars in subsidies from the ruling Communist Party, which is trying to make China an innovator in clean energy and other technologies. This worries US and European leaders who see China as a strategic and industrial competitor.
Chinese brands are “serious competitors,” according to David Lea, an analyst with GlobalData.
They have “more competitive battery technology” and can “achieve greater economies of scale,” Leah said in an email.
BYD Auto, which is owned by battery maker BYD, has pulled ahead of Tesla In total 2022 sales of 1.9 million vehicles. Half were gasoline-electric hybrids, while Tesla’s fleet is completely electric.
“We have a lot of respect for auto companies in China,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on a January 25 conference call with financial analysts. “They work hard and work smarter.”
Chinese brands are developing electric cars to compete without subsidies as Beijing shifts the burden onto the industry by requiring them to earn credits for selling the electrics. Prices start at 100,000 yuan ($14,500) for a compact SUV with a range of 400 km (250 miles) on a single charge.
“The Chinese are terrified,” Tesla CFO Zachary Kirkhorn said on the phone call.
Chinese electric vehicle brands combine research and design centers in the United States and Europe With factories in China.
Geely’s Zeekr plans to launch an all-electric sedan and SUV this year in the Netherlands and Sweden. The mini-UN of Chinese and European designers is located in Gothenburg, Sweden, next to Volvo Cars, another Geely car brand, while its factories are in China.
“Our ambition is to be a major player in the field of electric mobility in Europe within this decade,” said Zeekr CEO Spiros Fotinos, a veteran of Toyota and Lexus. “With a clear global ambition, we are looking at opportunities and the right timing for other markets,” he said.
Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Peugeot and Fiat, warned in January that Europe needed a strategy to compete with China’s lower prices. According to Tavares, European-made electrics cost 40% more than Chinese models.
“It’s a very grim scenario,” Tavares told German magazine Automobilwoche. “But it shouldn’t go that way.”
BYD Auto’s exports quadrupled in the past year to 55,916 sedans, SUVs and hatchbacks. Most of them went to India, Thailand, Brazil and other developing markets. BYD last year announced the sale of 1,000 vehicles to Mexican company VEMO for the largest taxi fleet outside of China.
Beijing-based state-owned BAIC said a dealer in Jordan ordered 1,000 units of its EU5 compact sedan in January. The company said it plans to launch two or three more electric cars in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe.
What about the United States, the largest and wealthiest market?
Chinese electric vehicle brands are skittish about a sprawling country demanding major investments in dealerships and charging networks, especially as Washington and Beijing feud. On security, technology and human rights.
“This is not an easy task,” said Lee from NIO. “Our products and services need preparation.”
BYD Auto has been in the US market for a decade now selling battery-powered transit buses assembled at its Northeast Los Angeles plant. In a written response to questions, the company said it was “still in the process” of deciding whether to sell SUVs and sedans to Americans.
Lia said that political tensions “make it difficult for a Chinese company to launch electric vehicles or otherwise” in the United States.
In Europe, Great Wall’s Ora sells Its Model 03 starts at 140,000 yuan ($20,000). Ora attempts to stand out among dozens of fledgling brands by marketing its cars as designed for women, their body sizes and everyday needs.
“This is a second or third car for a home. A wife or daughter can use it to go to work, go out with friends or go shopping,” said Aura deputy general manager Tan Jian.
In Europe, BYD Auto has partnerships with dealer chains in Britain, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. The company says it has also delivered cars in Belgium, Denmark and Austria. It has a deal with European leasing company SIXT that BYD says will lead to sales of 100,000 vehicles over the next six years.
In Japan, BYD Auto plans to open 100 showrooms by the end of 2025. Its Dolphin hatchback and Ceylon sedan are scheduled to hit the Japanese market this year. The company says it has also exported around 4,000 ATTO 3s to Australia.
Furukawa’s OZ company is transforming Volkswagen Beetles and other classic models by replacing gasoline engines with batteries and electric motors. Furukawa said he drives his ATTO 3 every day and has gone as far as Osaka, 400 kilometers (250 miles) away.
BYD Auto’s Yokohama showroom, which opened on February 2, is surrounded by dealerships of well-known brands including Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen and Chevrolet.
A married father of one said he looked at the Japanese models but bought the ATTO 3 for its spaciousness and price.
“I like to ride, and it’s easy to drive,” said the buyer, who asked not to be identified except by his surname, Ota. “There are a lot of good features.”
Ohta’s father had a “negative reaction” about BYD being from China, which has a history of strained relations with Japan. But Ohta said his job in the electronic games industry taught him to respect Chinese innovation.
“They come out with excellent products,” Ota said. “I respect the nation.”
McDonald reported from Shanghai.