Multinational Car Companies Start to Take Chinese Brands Seriously

At the Auto Shanghai 2023, a Honda engineer was carefully studying the BYD Dolphin. He first felt the texture of the interior fabric with his hand, tested the depth of the door storage box, and then sat in the car to feel the space size. Before moving on to the next car, he also carefully observed the front face of Dolphin, and exchanged views with his colleagues from time to time.

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Next to it, the BYD Seagull display car was already crowded with people. A BYD official was introducing this model to a group of overseas visitors. Through his exhibitor badge, it can be learned that these overseas learners came from Volkswagen Group, the second-largest automotive group in global sales. There were also media reports that executives from Volkswagen Group also appeared at BYD’s booth in a low-key manner.

A noticeable change at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show is that Chinese independent brands have replaced joint ventures and multinational brands as the focus of attention. This also reflects the changes in the Chinese market over the past three years - new energy vehicles have taken market share from fuel vehicles, and overseas brands are losing their dominance in the Chinese market.

This change of status can also be vaguely felt from the booth layout and the lively level of the scene. In the past, Chinese local car manufacturers hoped to choose booths adjacent to well-known multinational brands such as Mercedes-Benz, expecting consumers to take a look at local enterprises when they visit other brands.

Now the most lively hall is 6.1 Hall, which gathers “NIO Xiaopeng Lixiang Auto” and other leading new car-making forces. They represent the most cutting-edge direction of electric vehicle technology development and have the electric vehicle models that Chinese consumers are most interested in. On the contrary, foreign car brands have lost this halo, and booths without new energy vehicle models have become deserted.

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The reporter noticed that after Nissan’s pure electric concept car press conference ended, Nissan employees who attended the press conference did not stay too long at the booth, but chose to go to BYD’s booth together to learn about its latest products.

This year, BYD has a total of three booths including BYD, Tengshi and Yangwang, covering an area of 2,500 square meters, comparable to Mercedes-Benz and BMW, and almost every booth is full of media and exhibitors from all over the world. Yangwang’s booth even required queuing for admission. And two years ago, BYD’s booth area was less than Hengchi’s which has already withdrawn from this Shanghai Auto Show.

As the first A-class auto show in the world this year and also the first international A-class auto show after the optimization of epidemic prevention and control policies, this Shanghai Auto Show has attracted high attention. More than 1,000 whole vehicle and parts companies from 20 countries and regions actively participated in the exhibition, and the total number of visitors is expected to reach one million. Of the more than ,500 vehicles on display, more than half are new energy vehicles.

New energy vehicles only appeared at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2013 as a concept car for the future, but only after 10 years, new energy vehicles have become the absolute “C position” of the auto show.

In the three years of the epidemic, China’s auto industry has not only changed in terms of market share and penetration rate of electric vehicles, but also in terms of three-electric technology, internet technology, intelligence and electric vehicle industry chain. Chinese independent brands have become the leaders of new energy and intelligence.

The Honda engineer mentioned above said bluntly that BYD is already at the “ceiling” level in terms of sales and technical strength, and Honda needs to make more efforts in the transformation of electrification. More overseas auto executives have actively contacted relevant industry insiders in China, saying that they want to invite R&D and strategy-related personnel from BYD, Geely, SAIC, Ideal, NIO and other companies to conduct concentrated training and learning.

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Bill Russo, founder and CEO of Automobility Ltd, a strategy and investment advisory firm that helps its clients to build and profit from the future of mobility, said that overseas automakers will realize at this auto show how much they have lost in China and how long it will take them to return to the game.

“Some automakers will become regional players, hoping that their loyal domestic markets and protectionist governments will save them, while those who stay will realize that they need to dismantle their legacy businesses and rebuild new business models using smart electric technology.”

But this window of catch-up is already very short. The R&D cycle of automotive products takes several years, while Chinese consumers no longer regard traditional brands as technology leaders in the era of electric vehicles. Yang Jing, a director partner at Fitch Ratings, told Interface News that once consumers form a perception that joint venture brands are lagging behind in the field of new energy vehicles, it will have a far-reaching impact on brand influence.

Overseas car brands have already felt this pressure and tried to seize the traffic dividend period of the Shanghai Auto Show to reverse the impression that their electrification performance is not good. Almost all CEOs, executives and directors of multinational car brands have arrived in Shanghai one after another, and actively promoted their new energy vehicle models.

Mercedes-Benz Chairman Ola Källenius arrived in Shanghai a week ago; nearly half of BMW Group’s board of directors came to the “Innovation Future Night” held by BMW on the eve of the auto show; Volkswagen Group’s Volkswagen brand, Porsche and Audi all led a sizable delegation, which will arrive in Shanghai one after another. The focus of these three companies this year is on new energy vehicles.

And without Tesla as a rival, Chinese independent brands have already taken the Shanghai Auto Show as the best stage to showcase themselves to the world. They vigorously invited overseas media to come to Shanghai and experience the changes in the Chinese market.

A media from Germany was busy checking in and taking photos after attending NIO’s new ES6 launch. Before that, he was invited to participate in NIO’s vehicle test drive and face-to-face communication with NIO owners, and was surprised by the development of intelligence in Chinese cars; Chery held a press conference for overseas media at the Shanghai Auto Show, and a media from South Africa said that they could feel the fierce competition in the Chinese car market with so many brands competing on the same stage.

Ji Ke also announced its European strategy at this auto show, planning to start from the Netherlands and Sweden. Europe has now become an important direction for China’s new energy vehicle exports. An overseas trade agent of BYD at the auto show revealed that BYD’s cars are in short supply overseas, and the second-hand car prices are already higher than new cars.

He Xiaopeng, chairman and CEO of Xiaopeng Motors, once said, “No one can beat the trend.” This auto show let all car company executives and consumers see the arrival of new energy and intelligent trends.

An old order will be broken at the Shanghai Auto Show, and a new order will be established here.