Not a Tesla, but a BYD or Xpeng: car manufacturers are trying to seduce the Chinese Yesterday, 20:30 in Abroad It is the first time in four years that the prestigious Auto Show in Shanghai can be held again, after years of corona lockdowns and disappointing sales figures.

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  • Sjoerd den Daas

    China Correspondent

Exactly one year ago, Shanghai was still in complete lockdown: zero cars were sold in April in the city of 25 million. Now it’s old-fashioned busy again at the Auto Show in Shanghai. Car manufacturers in China are eager to show their models to the public, who marvel at the carefully polished electric four-wheelers. After the Chinese market, companies such as BYD, Nio and Xpeng also hope to sell them abroad.

It is the first time in four years that the prestigious fair, where automakers from home and abroad launched more than 150 new models, can be held in full glory again. Due to corona restrictions, the most recent versions were canceled or kept in a stripped-down form.

The offices and factories of car manufacturers were also affected: they were hit by lockdowns several times and several did not survive. “Surival of the fittest,” BYD brand manager Brian Luo calls it. “Competition in the electric car market is fierce.”

Crash test issues over

A range of new models will be presented this week. The Zeemeeuw, for example, is one of the most affordable cars at 10,000 euros. In Hall 8, the number that stands for prosperity, the U9 is positioned directly opposite Italian luxury brands such as Maserati and Lamborghini. Luo: “we want to serve all types of customers”.

BYD, short for Build Your Dreams, started out in the mid-1990s as a manufacturer of batteries and accumulators. Thirty years later, it has grown into the world’s largest producer of electric cars and hybrids. Of every two electric cars that leave the showroom in China, one is from BYD. An established giant in China, still a dwarf in the Netherlands: so far it has only sold a few hundred cars there.

The times of the Landwind, a Chinese car that failed in a crash test in Europe, are over. “Chinese companies are constantly innovating,” says Luo. Back then it was still about cars with combustion engines, now electric cars dominate. They pass the crash tests without any problems. “The situation now is impossible to compare with that of 15 years ago,” says Luo.

Without subsidy

In its own country, Beijing will no longer contribute this year for the first time. Reason for Tesla to lower prices in China in January. Other brands followed the price war. And there are more reasons for people to drive electric. “I wanted to buy a petrol car, but I can’t get a license plate until after 2030,” says a Beijing woman looking at a car owned by Li Xiang.

Beijing hardly issues license plates for ‘dirty’ cars anymore, prices on the second-hand market are sky-high. “That’s why I’m now looking into electric cars,” says the Pekinese. “We are considering several brands, but with BYD you get more for your money,” says another. “A car with a cool look, it looks like a sports car,” says yet another. “And I understand that you can charge it within fifteen minutes.”

Battery change stations

Automaker Nio, which mainly competes with Tesla inside and outside China, goes one step further. In addition to the almost 15,000 charging stations it already has, there must be 1,000 battery exchange stations by the end of this year where Nio drivers can continue after five minutes. “Handy if you’re on the highway. This makes it attractive to drive longer distances,” says Nio vice president Shen Fei.

The car sends itself into a kind of car wash. There, the 500 kilo battery is fully automatically disconnected and replaced. “Faster, and also better than the fast charging stations,” Shen points to one of its exchange stations, of which it now has four in the Netherlands. The company has about 100 Nio ET7s on the road, not the numbers it is used to in China. Shen: “But don’t forget that we’ve been doing this for five years in China. In Europe, we’re just getting started.”

Chinese automakers do notice that sentiment in the West towards their country has not improved in recent years. “As a supplier of electric cars, we let our products do the talking,” BYD manager Luo said when asked. “I believe that a good product will be embraced by consumers, regardless of where it comes from. I am confident in our future in Europe, including in the Netherlands.”

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