China’s electric-vehicle market gets crowded as luxurious competitors jump in
Luxury car makers use Shanghai auto show to signal new-energy vehicle pivot
Published: Apr 20, 2021 07:31 PM
Visitors lining up for a hands-on experience of some popular vehicle models Photo: Yanghui/GT

Visitors lining up for a hands-on experience of some popular vehicle models Photo: Yanghui/GT

Huawei unveils ARCFOX Alpha S in cooperation with BAIC Motor Corp at Shanghai auto show. Photo: Yanghui/GT

Huawei unveils ARCFOX Alpha S in cooperation with BAIC Motor Corp at Shanghai auto show. Photo: Yanghui/GT


China's EV market has been white-hot this year as more foreign brands have stepped up their activities in China.

Boasting the world's most sizable inventory of new-energy vehicles, China accounts for 55 percent of global NEV sales. That has led a growing number of high-line automakers to start laying out plans to address the trend and consolidate their debut at The Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition.

From Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini to Audi, a slew of foreign luxurious car makers have brought their latest electric lineups and plans at Shanghai auto show as they eye a bigger share into the world's largest auto market. 

Luxurious lineups

Britain's Bentley launched a hybrid car, New Bentayga Hybrid at Shanghai auto show on Monday. 

"We definitely have a very high confidence in the China market, Bentley like every other vehicle brand has to follow the customer demand. The clear future is electric worldwide and particularly China is leading this development," Bernd Pichler, managing director of Bentley Motors Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao, told the Global Times on Monday. 

By 2023, Bentley will have hybrid in every model car line and every single car launched will be fully electric vehicle by 2030, according to Pichler.

"The new Bentayga incorporates a lot of feedback we received from Chinese customers. I'm very confident that we will see high numbers in Chinese market because demand is very high for the vehicles," he said. 

Bentley's announcement comes amid an accelerating shift by the global auto industry away from gas and diesel to battery power, where China has become a recognized frontrunner. 

In November 2020, China unveiled a development plan for its new-energy vehicle industry from 2021-2035 that aims to accelerate the country into an automotive powerhouse, including raising the proportion of new NEVs in the sales of new vehicles to 20 percent by 2025.

By 2035, purely electric automobiles are likely to become the mainstream in the sales of new ones, while those used in public transportation will be exclusively electrified, according to the plan.

"New energy is not a choice. I think it is a must," Leon Li, director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Greater China region told the Global Times on Monday.

According to Li, all of Rolls-Royce products will be all fully electric in the next 10 years.

"From automatic driving, artificial intelligence, to connectivity of cars. I think it is a future trend for each brand," Li said.

As a global leader in this field many luxury brands are looking to deepen collaboration with Chinese manufactures boosting local production of their own electric vehicles.

Lamborghini is set to unveil its electric plan in May and seeks to deepen collaboration with local Chinese tech companies in automotive connectivity, Asia Pacific Head of Lamborghini Francesco Scardaoni, told the Global Times on Monday.

"I would say China is the most advanced market in terms of connected service and AI technology, meaning that if we want to be a champion in this kind of the segment we have to localize our suppliers for connectivity and AI technology. We are planning to deep-dive into Chinese tech company," he said.

In the more mainstream luxury market, Audi is teaming up with Chinese carmaker FAW to produce luxury electric vehicles with the establishment of joint-venture factory in Changchun in Northeast China.

The standard operating procedure of local produced fully-electric Audi models are scheduled to start by 2024 and six new electric vehicle models will be introduced by 2025, said Werner Eichhorn, president of Audi China on Monday.

Competitive market 

The entry of high-end vehicles comes amid a backdrop of increasing competition in China's electric car market already crowded with a number of local start-ups, like Nio, XPeng, Li Auto and new tech players, including Chinese telco giant Huawei Technologies and Baidu, all vying for a slice of the domestic market.

"The new-energy market has been in the making for several years, but today it is seen by everyone. Today it is just erupting like a volcano. I figure that start-up companies like Nio are very happy to see a competitive market," said Qin Lihong, director and president of Nio told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"We need to see that the intensity of competition will increase, which will push us to work harder. Although the best high-end gasoline-powered auto manufacturers are big in scale, we are at least five years ahead of them in the electric business. These five years are valuable time windows. I expect our advantage to be maintained for at least two or three years," Qin said.

Huawei has also unveiled the Arcfox Alpha S, a HarmonyOS-powered EV co-developed with BAIC at the show. It also featured the wireless charging technology developed by Chinese wireless EV charging start-up Invispower Co, founded in 2015 with R&D team from Tsinghua University. Compared with the traditional charging mode that requires manual plug-in and plug-in of charging gun, the wireless charging can function at any time and is expected to bring safer and more convenient user experience.

Yet with all the movement among players in China's EV market and with everyone plowing money into cleaner transport, the bubbles in the EV sector should be prevented, analysts warned.

The industry still need to address problems including chip shortages, insufficient charging facilities and preventing the sudden capital collapse of smaller companies, Independent car analyst Song Jin told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"The electric vehicles need three times more chips than traditional cars and the shortage faced by the pandemic is facing all EV makers," Song said.