China’s share of the European electric car market has more than doubled in less than two years as the world’s second largest economy tries to take the lead in the transition away from petrol and diesel cars.
The UK is the largest market in Europe for Chinese electric car brands, accounting for almost a third of sales in 2023 so far, according to data from Schmidt Automotive Research on the 18 largest European car markets. About 5% of all new car sales in the UK were from Chinese brands in the first seven months of 2023, a market share second only to Sweden.
Sales are accelerating: Chinese carmakers sold almost the same number of electric cars in Europe in the first seven months of 2023 as they did in the entirety of 2022.
Chinese brands have long struggled to break into Europe because of a reputation for lower-quality cars. However, some analysts believe the advent of new battery electric technology has wiped the slate clean for Chinese brands, and sales are booming.
The battery and carmaker BYD, which is backed by the US investor Warren Buffett, is the biggest maker of electric cars worldwide barring the US manufacturer Tesla. The state-owned SAIC and the private car conglomerate Geely are also vying with a host of electric-only startups such as Nio and Xpeng for a slice of the growing global market.
The share of Chinese cars in the total European car market has risen from 0.1% in 2019 to 2.8% in the first seven months of 2023, Schmidt said. But it is clear that Chinese companies are targeting electric vehicles in particular: the share of the market for pure battery electric cars rose from 0.5% in 2019 to 3.9% in 2021. So far this year, Chinese manufacturers have won 8.2% of the European electric car market, selling 86,000 battery electric cars.
The rapid rise of Chinese carmakers has set off alarm bells in Europe, where millions of people work in car manufacturing. China also has a significant advantage because it has the lead in production of batteries, leaving European industry reliant on a geopolitical rival until it builds its own “gigafactories”.