Chinese EV makers continue aggressive push into Europe under growing threat of tariffs

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BYD Seal U electric car at the IAA Mobility 2023 international motor show on September 6, 2023 in Munich, Germany.

Leonhard Simon | Getty Images News | Getty Images

PARIS — Chinese electric carmakers are pushing ahead with expansion into Europe, even as politicians raise the possibility of high tariffs on vehicles from the world’s second largest economy.

Nio this week opened a showroom in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, while Xpeng last week launched its G9 and G6 sports utility vehicles in France. Xpeng also had a car on display at the VivaTech conference in Paris, while BYD likewise showed off one of its vehicles.

The public marketing efforts come amid an ongoing investigation by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, into subsidies given to electric vehicle makers in China. The result of this probe could lead to tariffs on Chinese EV imports.

The U.S. has already taken such a step, with the Biden administration imposing 100% tariffs on Chinese EV imports this week.

Chinese EV makers have been aggressively expanding overseas, as they look to challenge Elon Musk’s Tesla internationally but also to gain an early lead ahead of established automakers.

Companies like BYD have raised concerns about the cut-throat pricing of vehicles. BYD has a car called the Seagull, a small all-electric hatchback that starts at just 69,800 yuan, or less than $10,000. Chinese firms’ ability to launch cheap cars could heap pressure on established automakers, who may not be able to match the discounted pricing.

China’s EV industry has boomed over the years thanks to incentives and support from the Chinese government, which has concerned politicians in Europe and the U.S.

Asked by CNBC about potential EU tariffs this week, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire did not confirm such measures are on the way, but said his goal is to “protect our industry and to ensure that on the international stage, there is a level playing field.”

Not all EV players welcome the tariffs, however, with Tesla’s Elon Musk saying he’s not in favor of tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles.

“Neither Tesla nor I asked for these tariffs,” Musk said in response to an inquiry from CNBC’s Karen Tso during a question-and-answer session at the VivaTech conference on Thursday.

“In fact, I was surprised when they were announced,” he added, referencing the U.S.’s 100% import tax. Earlier this year, Musk had warned that Chinese EV players would “demolish” competitors abroad in the absence of trade barriers.

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