Companies such as BYD and NIO are entering the European market with local strategies and innovative solutions such as battery leasing.
THE HAGUE/BERLIN, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) — Eight months ago, Ben Malawau, a Dutchman with more than 30 years of experience behind the wheel, decided to change his car. He then went out to test drive some new electric vehicles (EVs).
Just 30 minutes into his fifth test drive – this time of Chinese electric car maker BYD’s Atto 3 – a decision solidified for the 59-year-old “experienced driver”, ending weeks of contemplation and selection.
Malawau said his first visit to BYD’s showroom in Rotterdam was the result of a recommendation from his Chinese colleague and his prior knowledge of BYD’s advanced battery technology. The Atto 3 made a convincing impression on Malawau in terms of its performance, features and value for money, leaving him without hesitation to take it as his tenth car.
“We enjoy the car because of the big screen on the dashboard… All the things are in place, it’s very light, very comfortable to drive,” Malawau said, describing the model as offering “better quality and functionality” at a “cheaper price,” loved by the whole family.
The Atto 3 exemplifies the emerging trend in Chinese New Energy Vehicle (NEV) design, characterized by the integration of advanced driver assistance systems and digital functions such as entertainment and information systems. Above all, such improvements enhance the driving experience, making them a decisive factor in attracting European consumers.
In January, Malawau launched a Facebook group for Atto 3 owners, which has since grown to over 300 members. “Every day we share our experiences with that car. And we are all very positive about it,” he said.
Malawau and his online friends have a front-row seat to witness the growth of Chinese NEV sales in international markets, especially in Europe.
Data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed that from January to July this year, China exported 636,000 NEVs, an increase of 150 percent over the previous year.
According to France’s automotive consultancy Inovev, Chinese electric cars account for 8 percent of all new electric cars sold in Europe this year, marking a steady increase from 6 percent last year and 4 percent in 2021.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of Germany’s CAR Center Automotive Research Duisburg, recognized the advantages of Chinese car manufacturers, such as their rapid technological innovation and software development, as well as their early entry into the electric car sector, “in the next five to ten years, many Chinese electric vehicles and new energy vehicles will to populate the roads of Europe.”
While gradually gaining consumer recognition in Europe, Chinese EV manufacturers are creating their very own methods of establishing local partnerships and business networks.
Since October 2022, BYD has partnered with the Dutch company Louwman Group to launch dealerships in the Netherlands. So far, they have actually delivered more than 700 BYD electric cars, with two showrooms in the country’s two biggest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and another under construction in Eindhoven, a high-tech and design hub.
For Louwman’s president Eric Louwman, BYD should not only be defined as a Chinese brand but as a global player with high technical level, good quality and service support from a local partner.
Another Chinese EV startup, NIO, has taken a different direct-to-customer approach, bypassing middlemen. Arousing customer interest and creating salable features are of course of particular relevance to this newcomer.
“If you want to become a great car company, the European market is a challenge you cannot avoid,” Chen Chen, president of NIO’s European business development, told Xinhua. “But the market in Europe is very different from that in China.”
Located on Berlin’s Kurfurstendamm Boulevard – an iconic spot where locals and visitors alike flock to discover the latest in fashion and designer goods – NIO’s inaugural showroom in Germany could easily be mistaken for a co-working space, an art gallery or a café.
The showroom, from location to design, is the most important first point of contact with customers and is carefully tailored to the local market. “We want local people to visit our place as a leisure destination.”
Committed to efficient localization and exploring innovative business models, NIO launched an initiative called “Battery as a Service”, supported by its growing network of battery exchange stations. The brand allows consumers to buy a car separately from the battery with a more flexible payment structure. Meanwhile, users can subscribe to “battery packs” to access NIO’s power swap station and battery upgrade services.
For the interview with Xinhua, Chen drove from Amsterdam to Düsseldorf in a NIO EL7, a compact electric sports utility vehicle. Thanks to NIO’s battery replacement service, he was able to complete 500 km round trip in one day without having to stop for a recharge.
Currently, 98 percent of NIO’s European customers choose to rent batteries and take advantage of the quick battery replacement service, Chen said.
While NIO has made rapid inroads into the German, Dutch, Swedish and Danish markets since debuting in the European market via Norway 2021, its models are still relatively few on the streets. But Chen stressed: “We are in no rush.”
“People in Europe have been buying cars for generations. We have to be patient to become their new choice,” he said.
Chinese electric car manufacturers’ confidence in their future prospects is boosted by a community of European car owners and industry insiders, who envision further growth in the European market for Chinese electric car brands, including BYD, NIO, Xpeng, Hongqi or Lynk & Co.
“For the next few years, I will still be driving BYD, and I am very confident and happy with that,” Malawau said.