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Changing detail in retail: These Chinese manufacturers want in on Europe

May 7, 2021

While foreign manufacturers are forcing their way into the Chinese market, several Chinese manufacturers are attempting the opposite: Making the leap to Europe, Australia or the USA. Whether from Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen – we present four exciting car manufacturers from China.

Around 40 years ago, the then Volkswagen CEO Carl Hahn recognized the massive potential of the Chinese car market. He was one of the first managers in the automotive sector to forge relationships with businesspeople in China, which at that time was still considered to be a sleeping giant. A lot has changed since then: The sleeping giant has awoken and become the world’s biggest sales market for cars. Today, the Volkswagen Group sells around 40 percent of its vehicles in China, and in total around 42 million vehicles have already shipped to the PRC.

As such, Volkswagen stands as a model for a whole raft of European and American manufacturers who are realizing a significant part of their sales in the Chinese market. For BMW, China is the second-biggest sales market after Europe; in 2020, Daimler achieved over one-third of its sales in what is the most heavily populated country on earth. Despite this, China is anything but purely an import nation. Whether it is WEY, NIO, XPENG or SAIC – the Chinese automotive industry has a variety of own manufacturers, being both large groups and equally innovative start-ups. Some of them have taken aim at the European market. We present four exciting candidates.

WEY: Big car, small price, and still luxury

The luxury brand WEY is a subsidiary of the Chinese automotive group Great Wall Motors. It owes its name to Jack Wey, the head of the parent group and the strategic brain behind the company, founded in 2016, which has been preparing for market entry in Germany for several years already. In 2017, WEY presented its cars for the first time at IAA and showed where the journey was set to go as they moved ahead: With high-quality mid-class SUVs, the newcomer is looking to position itself as a price-favorable alternative to premium manufacturers such as Audi, BMW or Mercedes. To that end, in recent years WEY has built up a range of plug-in and combustion engine cars, known by the codes P8, V5, V6 and V7. In its domestic market, the brand has already sold over 400,000 units of these vehicles.

WEY is now preparing to make the leap to Europe, and to that end it has recently given its flagship car, the V71 (a derivation from the V7), a fresh new look. At the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2021, it was presented to a global public together with two new concept cars (Latte and Macchiato). While the latter two cars will probably only be available in the European market sometime later, the V71 ¬– now going by the name Mocca in China – will reportedly already be available to order in the fall of 2021 in Germany. The premium plug-in hybrid comes with average consumption of 1.4 liters per 100 kilometers, a battery with a range of around 200 kilometers, and with automatic park assist. In terms of design, WEY is looking to striking lines, wide shoulders and a large radiator grille in a chrome look. Prices for the V71 (Mocca) are yet to be announced by the manufacturer. However, further details should follow at the latest at IAA Mobility in September 2021, given that WEY is again attending the mobility trade fair this year. Maybe the company will then also clarify where the passion for coffee – somewhat unusual for China – originates… 

The WEY Mocca. © WEY

NIO: High-trading Tesla twin

No less exciting is the electric start-up NIO, founded in 2014, which may well already be familiar to interested observers, due to its skillful PR work: It unveiled its first model in 2016 in a London gallery. An extremely wide, low-slung electric racing car (the EP9) in metallic blue, it certainly attracted plenty of attention, even if to date only six have been built – unlike the two successor models ES8 and ES6 (two SUVs), which have been sold in China since 2018 and 2019 respectively. And with growing success: in 2018 total sales were just over 8,000, whereas in 2020 that had risen to around 44,000.

The share price for the Shanghai-based manufacturer has experienced a similar trajectory: Launching in 2018 on the New York Stock Exchange at USD 9.9, today (early May 2021) that has risen to around USD 40. It’s a stock market success that has already earned NIO the nickname of the “Chinese Tesla twin”. In part, that is also down to the AI-based NOMI in-car software and the ET7 electric sedan with an advertised range of over 1,000 kilometers, which are strongly reminiscent of the California-based electric car manufacturer.

In terms of the European market, however, NIO is still some way off its American forerunner. But according to company founder Li Bin, that is set to change this year: “We know that we already have many enthusiastic fans in Europe too. We also already have plans to sell our cars there. We will launch there initially in one country, and then look to build out from there step by step,” said Li Bin at the unveiling of the ET7 in January. As a starting point for Europe, NIO has chosen the Norwegian market, which is considered a pioneer in e-mobility.

The NIO ET7. © NIO

XPENG: Start-up with strong investors

Young and electric – that’s also true of XPENG, a business founded in 2014, which has already made a name for itself in China in mid-class and luxury-class cars. From its base in the city of Guangzhou, the company is now looking to expand into Europe, and in doing so it can draw on the wealth of expertise of its two founders, Xia Heng und He Tao, who worked previously for the Guangzhou Automobile Group. But this young start-up not only has plenty of sectoral knowledge at its disposal, but is also already well set-up on the financial front. For example, the Chinese internet giant Alibaba and the electronics manufacturer Foxconn are just two of the many big-name investors who are backing XPENG. Together with them, in recent years the start-up has already successfully launched two electric models on the Chinese market – the G3 SUV and the P7 sports sedan. Since their market launch, the sales graph has been strongly upward: 371 cars sold in 2018, 16,000 a year later, and in 2020 around 27,000.

It’s a success that XPENG is now looking to repeat in Europe, with fresh cash from its IPO. Hence customers have already been able to buy the G3 in Norway since December 2020, even if in strictly limited volumes. That’s a move that many observers see as an initial trial for the European market. A suitable model for that could be the P5 family sedan, which XPENG has just exhibited at the Shanghai Auto Show. This fully electric car with a range of around 600 kilometers will reportedly make automated driving on motorways and in urban areas possible.


SAIC: A major group with a “new energy” offensive

The Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC for short) is one of the biggest car manufacturers in China. One of the reasons for this are its many cooperative ventures with foreign manufacturers such as General Motors, MG or the Volkswagen Group, for whom SAIC offers various models on the Chinese market. In that, SAIC – just like all other manufacturers too – is subject to the requirements of the Chinese government, which for some years now has specified certain sales quotas for “new energy vehicles”, meaning e-cars, hybrids and fuel cell cars. It’s an area where SAIC is now applying itself to a comprehensive offensive in terms of models. The manufacturer is looking to broaden its “new energy” offering to around 100 models by 2025. Alongside a number of fuel cell cars, battery electric vehicles are set to make up to majority of these.

And it’s these cars that the Chinese group is looking to conquer the European market with. In the traditional UK brand MG, it already has one manufacturer with European brand recognition in its portfolio. Since early 2021, it has offered an electric SUV from the Chinese group in Austria, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands. The model, known as the ZS EV, comes with a 44-kWh battery and a range of around 260 kilometers, and it costs just over EUR 32,000. The ZS EV E-SUV will soon be followed by the EHS PHEV SUV and the larger Marvel R Electric E-SUV.

The GM ZS EV. © GM

Geely: With electric power from Scandinavia

Another major corporation from China is Geely. In addition to the in Europe rather unknown brands Emgrand, Englon, London Taxi, Panda and Shanghai Maple Automobile, the company also owns the two Scandinavian manufacturers Volvo and Polestar, which were bought by Geely in 2010 and 2015. With them, the Chinese group is indirectly represented in the European market and is primarily trying to score in the electric segment. While Volvo wants to convert its model range completely to zero-emission drives by 2030, the mid-range and tuning brand Polestar specializes entirely in battery-electric drives. In its portfolio, it offers both a hybrid limousine (Polestar 1, highly limited) and a pure electric limousine (Polestar 2).

(Stage photo: © Wey)

IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: The Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries comes together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.