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Saturday, Feb 24, 2024

The race for China's electric SUV market is heating up both at home and abroad.

The race for China's electric SUV market is heating up both at home and abroad.

The battleground in the electric vehicle price war is shifting to SUV-styled EVs, the largest section of the market dominated by Tesla and BYD.
The market, already congested with more than 90 models, is likely to grow even tighter, analysts and executives said, with at least 20 new models of both Chinese and foreign brands launching in April, compressing pricing and margins at home and pushing exports.

Analysts believe that EV manufactures in China have followed Tesla's aggressive price reduction by decreasing costs for their own electric SUVs, cannibalizing sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles as the price gap between the technologies narrows.

With increased exports of Chinese-made electric SUVs, the trend will spread globally.

"Because of China's ultra-competitive market, we'll see a lot of Chinese exports." Tu Le, founder of Beijing-based advice firm Sino Auto Insights, believes it will be a pressure release valve.

Over the last decade, the SUV market in China has grown to account for about 40% of all cars sold, with 400 SUV models available in all fuel types.

In 2022, nearly as many Chinese-made SUVs were sold as automobiles of any sort in Europe last year, or more than 11 million.

Since Tesla released its locally built Model Y in China two years ago, the popularity of electric SUVs has surged, making it one of the fastest-growing segments in the world's largest auto market.

Among the new models unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in April were both domestic and foreign names.

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE), and Toyota (7203.T) are banking on new electric SUVs to boost sales in China.

Xpeng (9868.HK) and Nio (9866.HK), both Made in China EV startups, have six SUV models, and EV-only brands developed by Chinese state-owned vehicle firms, such as GAC's (601238.SS) Aion, are also pushing all-electric SUVs.

They will compete with 93 existing electric SUV models in a market with 1.5 million sales in 2022, with the top 10 brands accounting for 84%, according to a Reuters analysis of statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

Before Tesla began making Model Ys in China in 2020, there were 76 electric SUVs on the market, with annual sales averaging just 3,000 units.

Despite recent slight price increases, Tesla's Model Y is still 20% less expensive in China than it was in early October, when the carmaker was dealing with growing inventory.


DISCOUNT WAR
Xpeng, Leapmotor (9863.HK) and others have fired back with their own discounts, while BYD offered a discount of $1,000 on its market-leading Song Plus SUV, or about 4% off.

Those who refuse to cut prices on existing models in order to safeguard brand value have instead chosen to provide lower-than-expected beginning prices for new models, as well as longer driving ranges and more autonomous driving technologies.

For example, Geely's (0175.HK) (GEELY.UL) luxury EV brand Zeekr priced its new small crossover Zeekr X starting at $27,500, which is 28% less than Model Y and nearly the same price as Honda's (7267.T) CR-V, whose first-quarter sales fell 56%.

Mitsubishi Motors (7211.T) also said last week that production of its Outlander SUV in China would be halted for three months.

According to Le of Sino Auto Insights, the reality is "brutal" for heritage international companies pursuing the mass market with small SUVs priced under $40,000, such as Ford.

Jim Farley, CEO of Ford (F.N), acknowledged severe market competition for two-row, SUV-styled EVs as a factor fueling China's auto export surge.

"That's why they're focusing so heavily on Europe." Europe is a high-end export market. "They're all going there," Farley remarked after a trip to China in April.

According to Farley, Ford would also restructure its China business in order to make one of its joint ventures into an export hub for low-cost commercial electric and combustion vehicles.

General Motors (GM.N), which saw its China profit fall by about a fourth in the most recent quarter, needs new EVs to succeed in order to reclaim its market share in China, but the pressure is severe.

"China has 100 vehicle brands vying for sales and a 50% capacity utilization rate," stated CEO Mary Barra.

Tesla and Renault (RENA.PA) have already been exporting considerable quantities of China-made electric SUVs to Europe. According to Reuters, Tesla will begin exporting Model Y crossovers from its Shanghai plant to Canada, marking the company's first exports to North America.

Chinese automakers have their own ambitions to increase sales of electric SUVs in Europe.

Zeekr stated it would bring the Zeekr X to Western Europe, while BYD's Atto 3 SUV exports more than doubled in the first quarter as the company began taking orders there.

"The styling of it (Atto 3) is in keeping with the higher driving position, the good space," said Mark Blundell, BYD's marketing head in the United Kingdom.

"We just feel like it's a good starting point for us in the UK."

$1 equals 6.9000 Chinese yuan renminbi.
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