BYD plots to overtake Tesla in Europe by 2030

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European automakers will increasingly play third wheel in the continent’s electric car market, as China’s BYD races for dominance with Tesla. 

At least, that’s the ambition of BYD’s European boss, who expects to overtake the likes of Volkswagen, Stellantis, and most importantly Tesla itself by 2030.

To do so, Michael Shu told the Financial Times’ Future of the Car Summit that the company is planning an aggressive expansion in marketing and dealerships as part of a strategy that will eventually see BYD cars bound for Europe mostly assembled in the region. 

“We are confident that we could be in a leading position,” by 2030, Shu told the summit. “We are moving to the next stage to decide a huge investment in the EU,” he added, which was expected to amount to billions of dollars.

China’s EV ascent 

Tesla currently holds the crown for the best-selling EV in Europe after getting a head start on traditional gas-powered carmakers in the last decade. The group’s Model Y shifted more than 254,000 units in 2023, according to JATO Dynamics.

BYD, however, is making strong early gains in Europe since sending its purpose-built ships to the continent earlier this year. The company plans to triple its market share in Europe by 2025. 

More broadly, Chinese-made cars are expected to account for a quarter of all EV sales this year, according to research from campaign group Transport & Environment.

European automakers have expressed concerns about the threat to their market share from the flood of cheap Chinese EVs. A particular worry is that their new competitors still have considerable room to cut prices if they need to. Research from Rhodium Group showed BYD’s Seal U car was 11 times more profitable in Europe compared to China, for example.

In addition to benefiting from state subsidies and cheaper labor, Chinese EVs are often more technologically advanced and benefit from control of their battery supply chains, further significantly reducing costs. 

Speaking in April, Volkswagen boss Oliver Blume said the automaker “cannot keep up at the top of the table” in the Chinese market, owing to brutal competition with BYD. 

BYD’s ambitions in Europe could mimic a scrap already occurring in the carmaker’s native China, where the group is in a brutal price war with Tesla. 

Indeed, BYD briefly overtook Tesla as the world’s biggest seller of EVs by shipping more cars than Elon Musk’s company in the final quarter of 2023, before Tesla retook its crown in the first quarter of this year as both automakers dealt with falling demand.

Subsidy probe

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for BYD in Europe is a pending investigation from the European Commission into anti-competitive subsidies for Chinese carmakers. 

The Commission made plans to visit Chinese automakers BYD, Geely, and SAIC, and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen accused Chinese carmakers of distorting the market back in October. 

The expectation is that the EU will introduce an import tariff on Chinese EVs to blunt their advantage over European manufacturers, though Rhodium Group research suggested only a tariff in excess of 50% would be enough to do real damage, which seems unlikely. 

However, BYD’s Europe boss Shu said the company is planning to build more of its cars in Europe to help circumvent higher import costs. 

“To ship cars from China to Europe is not going to be long term. The long term is to produce locally,” Shu told the FT.

The group has already announced plans to build a plant in Hungary in the next three years as part of a push to localize production, in a sign that BYD is committed to staying in the European market for the long haul.

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