4 Advice to Choose a china car buy

Author: Justin

Apr. 09, 2024

Automobiles & Motorcycles

Have you ever heard of this one? The Maxus MIFA 9 – the world's first MPV EV

► Chinese EV brands on UK sale today
► Breakthrough tech at lower prices
► Our guide to the brands to watch

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’ll have noticed that the Chinese car industry is using the opportunities posed by electrification to leapfrog into global contention. It’s a textbook tale of industrial innovation, as one nation’s car industry uses a significant shift in the automotive industry to kickstart its ambitions to become a producer of the best electric cars.

Within a decade, Chinese car manufacturers have gone from a global laughing stock to serious competitors, and it’s all caused by their decision to go all-in on electric vehicles (EVs). It’s quite the pivot. 

Increasing numbers of Chinese car brands are targeting Europe as a major source of growth. Already in spring 2024 around half of the most popular electric cars sold in the UK hail from China. In this article, we will focus on the new Chinese brands arriving on British soil, as opposed to the labyrinthine ownership structures that are accelerating the electrification of existing and new European brands (eg China’s Geely group already owns western car makers such as Volvo, Polestar, Lotus and a good chunk of Smart).

Which Chinese cars are sold in the UK?

In this article we will guide you through the most popular Chinese brands offering electric cars in the UK in 2024. Read on for a quick summary of each brand and their electric offerings on sale today.

BYD: The one to watch

Standing for Build Your Dreams, BYD is one of the world’s biggest manufacturer of electric cars, tussling with Tesla at the top of the EV sales charts. That gives you some idea of how seriously we should take this car maker: BYD is the biggest and most potent new competitor to land in the UK and Europe and veteran investor Warren Buffet’s decision to buy a quarter of its shares for $232 million in 2008 looks smarter by the day. Choose from these BYD electric cars on sale today:

  • BYD Dolphin (above): An electric supermini priced from £30k
  • BYD Atto 3: Compact electric crossover costing £38k
  • BYD Seal: Powerful Tesla Model 3 rival, from £46k

MG: The rump of MG Rover is now Chinese-owned and offers a variety of powertrains

Hard to believe how it’s taken two decades since the collapse of Longbridge for Chinese parent brand SAIC to have turned around its prized British asset into a purveyor of decent and increasingly electrified cars. Remarkably, it’s MG’s centenary in 2024 and it now offers a range of petrol, plug-in hybrid and full battery electric vehicles (BEVs):

  • MG 3: The smallest MG on sale today, petrol and hybrid power, costs from a bargain £14k
  • MG 4 (above): Breakthrough EV – great to drive, cleverly packaged, superb value with prices from £27k
  • MG 5: One of the few electric estate cars on sale today. Equally good value at £31k
  • MG ZS: Old-school small crossover – not much cop, but cheap at £18k
  • MG HS: Mid-sized SUV in petrol and plug-in hybrid form. From £24k
  • MG Cyberster: Not quite on sale yet, but one of the first electric convertibles is coming soon

GWM Ora: Great Wall Motor was one of the first Chinese brands into the UK market

Great Wall launched in the UK years ago and punted the bargain-basement Steed pick-up truck for a while, with little critical success but proved a hit with penny-pinching tradesmen. We sat up and paid attention when GWM launched the smart Ora Funky Cat, since renamed to sound a little less oddball to European ears:

  • GWM Ora 03 (above): Retro, Beetle-ish style, some clever design flourishes, fully electric and priced from a reasonable £32k
  • GWM Ora 07: Not quite here yet, but arriving later in 2024, the 07 is a saloon version of the 03. No RRP confirmed yet

Maxus: SAIC’s electric commercial vehicles

Sister brand to MG, Maxus is also owned by Shanghai-based SAIC, which already sells a growing range of electric vans in the UK. We won’t go into those here, but there are also a couple of passenger vehicles and a pick-up on sale right here, right now:

  • Maxus MIFA 9 (above): Claimed to be the world’s first fully electric MPV – seven seats, a 323-mile range and priced from £65k
  • Maxus T90EV: The only electric pick-up offered today in the UK, costs a whisker under £50k (although that excludes VAT)

Omoda: Chery’s crossover brand eyeing up Qashqai sales

Omoda launched in the UK in March 2024 with a single model, although a range of cars will quickly follow. It’s all a bit work in progress: the official website claims it has already launched on the homepage, but in other areas it still says ‘Coming soon.’ We will update this article once UK information becomes clearer. For now, your only choice is the launch SUV:

  • Omoda 5 (above): It’s a Qashqai-sized crossover available in both EV all-electric or combustion forms

Other Chinese brands planning to launch in the UK soon

The car makers listed above are the tip of the iceberg: there is a queue of other brands waiting to launch here – so look out for the following names and debutants waiting in the wings. We will be sure to update this list in the months ahead as more brands join the fray, so stay tuned:

It’s hard to establish a new brand from scratch, hence some of the optimistic launch schedules announced by many of these brands. Having a proven product from China is one thing; seeking European type approval, appointing a network of dealers, managing the training and personnel and sales systems and back-end support and parts supply, is quite another…

Why are Chinese electric cars becoming popular in Britain?

The Chinese government has pursued a deliberate long-term strategy to support its automotive sector’s lead in EVs, building a geopolitical footprint to enable the raw materials, intellectual property, design and manufacture of batteries at scale at a price to make western car makers weep.

Thanks to this long-term industrial strategy funded by the Communist government, China has cornered supply of raw materials and production of the batteries required for electrification: 70% of global battery cell manufacturing takes place in China and BloombergNEF’s annual lithium-ion battery price survey suggests that China’s production cost of $126 per kWh undercuts production costs in the US by 11% and Europe by 20%. It’s a stark reminder that geopolitics, trade deals and imperial strategy have been deliberately aligned to secure China’s competitive advantage. 

It’s this combination of scaled EV know-how and lower-price manufacturing that’s producing the exact cars the market is moving towards at prices that undercut European electric models. It’s a potent mix and if anything the choice of Chinese electric cars is only going to blossom in the months ahead, as new and as-yet unheard-of brands line up to launch over here.

Read more about the cheapest electric cars here.

In this article

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A BYD Seagull small electric car is on display during the 20th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition at the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai)

Vcg | Visual China Group | Getty Images

DETROIT — Chinese automakers pose a growing threat to their American counterparts — even without selling directly to consumers in the U.S. market.

Sales of China-made vehicles are rising at notable rates in Asia, Europe and other countries outside those continents. China recently reported exports of more than 5 million vehicles in 2023, topping Japan to become the top country for car exports in the world.

That volume from well-established, government-owned companies like SAIC and Dongfeng, as well as newer players like BYD, Nio and others, has catapulted China from the sixth ranking to the top seed since 2020. It comes amid declining U.S. vehicle exports as companies such as General Motors have cut international operations. U.S. auto exports in 2022, the most recent data available, were down 25% from their peak in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

America — fourth globally in vehicle exports prior to 2020 — ranked sixth in the world last year, falling behind No. 5 Mexico, No. 4 South Korea and No. 3 Germany, according to global consulting firm AlixPartners.

"My No. 1 competitor is the Chinese carmakers," said Carlos Tavares, CEO of Chrysler parent Stellantis, during a virtual media roundtable Friday. "This is going to be a big fight. There is no other way for a global carmaker like Stellantis that is operating all over the world than to go head-on with the Chinese carmakers. There is no other way."

The threat extends beyond export volumes. Chinese automakers have set a new standard for vehicle production and pricing. They're releasing new models in record times, and many are producing EVs efficiently and profitably — something that has eluded global automakers including America's GM and Ford Motor.

BYD dominance

Automotive experts have pointed to BYD Co. as a prime example of the rise of China's automakers. The company, backed by the Beijing government, last year topped Tesla to become the world's largest seller of EVs.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company operates a large plant in China, has said Chinese automakers are the greatest competitors for his Texas-based company.

"There's a lot of people who are out there who think that the top 10 car companies are going to be Tesla followed by nine Chinese car companies. I think they might not be wrong," Musk said at The New York Times' Dealbook conference in November.

Rhodium Group estimates that BYD received approximately $4.3 billion in state support between 2015 and 2020, according to The Economist. Beijing has also offered subsidies to incentivize buyers of electric cars.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares holds a news conference after meeting with unions, in Turin, Italy, March 31, 2022.

Massimo Pinca | Reuters

BYD has cracked a code for low-priced EVs that seemingly transcends borders: Its BYD Seagull, a tiny EV that starts at roughly $11,400, would significantly undercut U.S. EV prices at less than $15,000 even when factoring in America's 27.5% tariff on Chinese-made vehicles.

"This is a car that scares me," said Kristin Dziczek, automotive policy advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago's Detroit branch, during the organization's Automotive Insights Symposium last week. "How are we going to cut the price of EVs in half? China's already done it."

Mathew Vachaparampil, CEO of auto teardown and consulting firm Caresoft Global, estimates BYD is making $1,500 off each Seagull unit sold. At worst, the company breaks even, he said.

And the company is shipping more vehicles outside China: Overseas markets accounted for about 10% of BYD's more than 3 million sales last year, doubling that share from the the beginning of the year, according to Bernstein.

"BYD has an unparalleled cost structure and product innovation ability, that stems from its high degree of vertical integration which will enable the company to thrive in the ongoing EV race in China and abroad," Bernstein analyst Eunice Lee said in an analyst note last week. "Despite growing pricing pressure in China, we expect the company's focus on overseas and premium segments will support 29% [compound annual growth rate] in earnings through 2025."

Growth gone global

Backed by local and federal governments, the growth of Chinese automakers began in their home country — taking share away from mandatory joint ventures between non-domestic automakers and Chinese companies.

For example, GM's share of the Chinese market, including its joint ventures, has plummeted from roughly 15% in 2015 to 8.6% at the end of the third quarter last year.

"What's going on in China at home? These [new energy vehicle] brands have become dominant," Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners, said at the Chicago Fed's auto conference. "They were 26% [market share] a few years ago, up to more than 50% in 2022 and headed towards two-thirds by the end of the decade."

BYD's new luxury brand Yangwang is selling its first model, the U8, for more than 1 million yuan (US$160,000).

CNBC | Evelyn Cheng

And the growth hasn't stayed home. Chinese companies have begun expanding into Mexico, Europe and elsewhere, Wakefield said. They've largely done so through cheap, relatively inexpensive models — some of which American automakers have given up on — as well as EVs, which experts view as an open market for the companies.

Chinese companies accounted for 8% of Europe's all-electric vehicle sales as of September last year and could increase their share to 15% by 2025, according to the European Union. The EU believes Chinese EVs are undercutting the prices of local models by about 20% in the European market.

The influx of Chinese EVs has spurred the European Union to launch government support for the industry.

In Mexico, China-built vehicles with internal combustion engines increased from 0% market share to 20% of the country's light-duty vehicle sales over the past six years, according the Chicago Fed's Dziczek.

"Mexico is the second-largest market for China-made vehicles other than Russia," she said. "They're going to be on our shores in Mexico in the not-too-distant future."

Coming to America

For decades, Chinese auto companies have said they will begin selling vehicles in the U.S. under their own brands, but none have succeeded.

That's not to say China doesn't compete in the U.S. market. Aside from major supply chain ties, there are also a handful of auto brands owned by Chinese companies operating in the U.S., such as Lotus, Volvo (including its Polestar spin-off) and niche EV maker Karma.

American companies, such as GM and Ford already, or plan to, manufacture some vehicles in China to be imported and sold in the U.S. GM imports its Buick Envision from China to the U.S., while Ford last year said it would import its forthcoming Lincoln Nautilus crossover from China.

But as of yet, a U.S. driver can't easily buy a Dongfeng, BYD or other Chinese-made vehicle stateside.

2024 Lincoln Nautilus

Ford

Aside from potential regulatory hurdles and protectionism acts, some believe Chinese automakers could find success in expanding to the U.S. market the same way Japan's Toyota Motor and South Korea's Hyundai Motor have done.

Those automakers made their entrances to the U.S. market with affordable, accessible vehicles, then increased their offerings to boost quality and safety and ultimately expanded to higher-end models.

"The Japanese carmakers came to the U.S. in the '70s," Stellantis' Tavares said. "They needed 50 years to reach the top of the market with some of the competitors that we know well. I don't see any reason why this would not happen with the Chinese."

— CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed to this article.

4 Advice to Choose a china car buy

Why China poses a growing threat to the U.S. auto industry

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