Competition grows in EVs, but China can still win the marathon: analysts
Competition grows, but China can still win the marathon: analysts
Published: Aug 23, 2020 07:13 PM

Volkswagen's electric ID.3 model on display in Shanghai Photo: cnsphoto

As a latecomer to the electric vehicle (EV) market, Europe has witnessed surging sales of green vehicles in the past few months, presenting a challenge to market-leader China. Despite this development, the overtake should not be exaggerated in the marathon-like EV race, analysts say.

According to the European Electric Car Report from Matthias Schmidt, an independent car analyst based in Berlin, Europe's EV sales exceeded those of China during the January-July period of this year.

Roughly 500,000 EVs were registered in Europe during the first seven months of this year, exceeding China's sales by about 14,000 units, data from the report showed. 

The surging sales in Europe were boosted by generous subsidies - topped up in major markets France and Germany in response to the COVID-19 impact - while the UK market experienced a delayed delivery boost from changes to tax rates in April, said Schmidt.

Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association, told the Global Times that Europe started late in the EV field, lacking batteries and other corresponding EV-supporting resources. The market is relatively small, so European governments and automakers have made greater efforts to catch up. 

Amid the reduction of government subsidies in the Chinese new-energy vehicle (NEV) market, subsidies in European countries have come at the perfect time. For example, Germany increased electric vehicle incentives as part of their post-pandemic stimulus package. For an electric car with a netlist price of less than 40,000 euros ($47,180) - such as the BMW i3 or Volkswagen ID.3 - the manufacturer and purchaser can benefit from a total subsidy of 9,000 euros.

According to data from the German Association of the Automotive Industry, in the first half of 2020, the market share of domestic electric vehicles in Germany reached 7.7 percent. With the gradual implementation of relevant government policies and the successive launch of additional new models, market share in the second half of the year is expected to approach 10 percent.

Consumers have swarmed virtual showrooms in Germany and France - the region's two largest passenger-car markets - after their national governments boosted electric-vehicle incentives to stimulate demand. Their purchase subsidies are now among the most favorable in the world, according to Bloomberg.

A number of multinational automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, have increased investment in the EV sector, which has also driven the region's auto sales. 

Drawing experience from European subsidies and promotion policies, China should also consider appropriately increasing NEV promotion, especially in related fields and market promotion, which can provide better development opportunities for green cars in the country, Cui said.

Cannot lag behind 

The robust development in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted the region's industrial production and business activities, comes as a surprise, with the market realizing positive growth in the first half of the year compared to the negative growth registered in both the Chinese and US markets.

Zeng Yuqun, chairman of Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), one of the world's largest suppliers of batteries for EVs, said in a recent industry forum that Europe's EV sales are forecast to surpass that of China in 2020, citing relevant data that showed Europe's NEV sales went up 52 percent year-on-year in the first half, compared with a negative 44 percent in China and negative 29 percent in the US.

Zeng called on the domestic NEV industry to ramp up efforts via a metaphor: The Chinese NEV market should not wake up very early in the morning, only to arrive at the fair very late. "While we finished our infrastructure construction, others had started to embrace a sales boom."

As home to the largest market for the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles in the world, China saw the first decline of its NEV market in 2019, when sales dropped 4 percent year-on-year to about 1.2 million units. This decline was strongly related to the scaling back of subsidies which were cut by around half in June 2019, with subsidies for vehicles with ranges under 250 kilometers completely eliminated.

In light of the impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the domestic auto market, the Chinese government has extended tax exemptions and subsidies that were set to expire this year to 2022 and hinted at new investments that could further boost the country's NEV market in the long term.

Yu Qingjiao, secretary general of the Zhongguancun New Battery Technology Innovation Alliance, told the Global Times that there is still vast room for growth in domestic NEV sales, referring to the current 4 percent penetration ratio of NEVs among passenger cars in China, which lags behind some European countries.

"But I don't think we should worry too much about the temporary overtake by Europe in the NEV market, as the race is not a sprint but a marathon, which requires accumulated technologies and consumption support, in which, the Chinese market has obvious advantages," said Yu.

He predicted that as the domestic NEV sector continued to recover, more opportunities would appear in the market and China will take the NEV throne again next year.

In the past decade, China has invested in building up a mature industrial chain for all areas of NEV production, from raw materials to charging stations, according to Yu. 

China has gained an upper hand in the three core components of an electric car: electric engine, motor controller and battery, and Asian firms have an advantage in EV battery-making compared with their European counterparts, Yu added.

According to South Korea's market tracker SNE Research, the Ningde-based CATL ranked No.1 globally in 2019 with a 27.9 percent market share and usage of its EV batteries rising 39 percent year-on-year to 32.5 Gigawatt hours (GWh). CATL was followed by Japan's Panasonic Corp with a 24.1 percent market share and South Korea's LG Chem with a 10.5 percent market share.

Meanwhile, Yu applauded the gradual reduction of incentives on domestic EV makers, leading to an increasingly competitive market with traditional auto giants all increasing their presence in the sector.