What does China’s EV market look like now?
As a result of all this, China now has an outsize domestic demand for EVs: according to a survey from the US consulting company AlixPartnersover 50% of Chinese respondents were considering battery-electric vehicles as their next car in 2021, the highest proportion in the world and two times the global average.
There are a slew of Chinese-built options for these customers—including BYD, SAIC-GM-Wuling, Geely, Nio, Xpeng, and LiAuto. While the first three are examples of gas-car companies that successfully made the switch to EVs early on, the last three are pure-EV startups that grew from nothing to household names in less than a decade.
And the rise of these companies (and other Chinese tech behemoths) coincided with the rise of a new generation of car buyers who don’t see Chinese brands as less prestigious or worse in quality than foreign brands. “Because they’ve grown up with Alibaba, because they’ve grown up with Tencent, they effectively were born into a digital environment, and they’re much more comfortable with Chinese brands versus their parents, who would still rather likely buy a German brand or a Japanese brand,” says Tu. The fact that these Chinese brands have sprinkled a little bit of nationalism into their marketing strategy also helps, Tu says.
Can other countries replicate China’s success?
Many countries are almost certainly now looking at China’s EV experience and feeling jealous. But it may not be that easy for them to achieve the same success, even if they copy China’s playbook.
While the US and some countries in Europe meet the objective requirements to supercharge their own EV industries, like technological capability and established supply chains, ICCT’s He notes that they also have different political systems. “Is this country willing to invest in this sector? Is it willing to give special protection to this industry and let it enjoy an extremely high level of policy priority for a long time?” she asks. “That’s hard to say.”
“I think the interesting question is, would a country like India or Brazil be able to replicate this?” Mazzocco asks. These countries don’t have a traditional auto industry as strong as China’s, and they also don’t have the Chinese government’s sophisticated background in handling massive industrial policies through a diverse set of policy tools, including credits, subsidies, land use agreements, tax breaks, and public procurements. But China’s experience suggests that EVs can be an opportunity for developing countries to leapfrog developed countries.
“It’s not that you can’t replicate it, but China has had decades of experience in leveraging these [systems],” says Mazzocco.
Chinese brands are now looking to other markets. What challenges are they facing?
For the first time ever, Chinese EV companies feel they have a chance to expand outside of China and become global brands. Some of them are already entering the European market and even considering coming to the US, despite its saturated market and the sensitive political situation. Chinese gas cars could never have dreamed of that.