Chinese Leader Xi Jinping Visits Europe Amid Trade Tensions Over Chinese EVs; BYD and Other Chinese EV Exports Projected to Increase by 50% in 2024

Chinese President Xi Jinping embarks on his first European tour in five years, with discussions on Chinese electric vehicle exports a critical topic. The European Union is probing Chinese electric cars for potential anti-subsidy measures, threatening punitive tariffs if subsidies are detected.

Simultaneously, China’s vehicle exports are projected to surge this year, buoyed by robust sales in regions like Southeast Asia and the Middle East, with electric vehicles playing an important role.

Despite export restrictions in the U.S. and EU, major Chinese automakers like BYD and Chery Automobile are steadfast in their global expansion strategies.

Exports of Chinese EVs are expected to reach 1.8 million units, a year-on-year increase of 50%, in 2024, according to a Chinese auto association. BYT, the biggest Chinese EV maker, aims to capture 5% of the EU market by 2025 and 10% by 2030.

EU Investigates Chinese Electric Vehicles, Potential Tariffs Ahead

According to EU officials speaking to the Financial Times, temporary anti-subsidy tariffs on Chinese electric cars may be imposed between May and July, with permanent tariffs requiring the support of a majority of EU member states and expected to be imposed starting in November. The Rodium Group predicts EU tariffs of 15% to 30% on Chinese EVs.

Xi Jinping’s tour of France, Serbia, and Hungary this week is perceived as a strategic move to exploit divisions within the EU, aiming to achieve a more advantageous position for the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) industry.

The lack of unity among the EU’s 27 member states undermines the bloc’s ability to present a unified stance on China-related policies. Moreover, Xi Jinping might seek to create a wedge between the EU and the U.S., potentially granting greater flexibility for Chinese EVs in the international market.

EU imports of EVs from China ballooned from US$1.6 billion in 2020 to US$11.5 billion in 2023, accounting for 37% of all EV imports in the bloc, according to a Rodium Group report. The EU is the largest recipient of Chinese battery electric vehicle exports, accounting for nearly 40% of them.

China’s total auto exports, including all passenger and commercial vehicles, were estimated at 5.26 million units last year and valued at about US$102 billion, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

Differing Opinions Among EU Member States

French President Emmanuel Macron stated before Xi Jinping’s visit that China has long been seen as an export market for Europe, especially the German automotive industry. However, the situation has changed, with China now heavily exporting cars to Europe.

Macron emphasized that while European-made electric cars face a 15% tax in the Chinese market, Chinese-made electric cars are only taxed 10% in the European market. He stressed that reciprocity is the primary demand.

However, the German government has shown a more reserved attitude, with a German government spokesperson in Berlin stating last week that Chancellor Scholz clearly expressed during his visit to China that there should be no unfair competition. Chancellor Scholz previously suggested negotiating within the framework of the World Trade Organization to address subsidy issues.

The German spokesperson added that the EU investigation into Chinese electric cars has not yet concluded. The German government expects to give "careful consideration" to this issue.

Complex Trade Tensions Between China and the EU

The French government signed a wide-ranging pact with the automotive industry on Monday that sets new targets for electric vehicle sales, just as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived.

The contract between the government, French business groups and unions aims for a fourfold increase in the sale of 100% EVs to 800,000 a year in 2027. It also targets a sixfold increase for electric light commercial vehicles to 100,000 a year.

French officials stated that France will also raise the issue of China’s investigation into French brandy. China launched an anti-dumping investigation into EU brandy in January, causing concerns about whether China will impose tariffs as high as 218% on European brandy as it did on Australian wine.

According to French data, in 2023, China accounted for 19.4% of French brandy exports. Another major market for French brandy is the United States, where sales are sharply declining.

What Should Be the EU Tariff on Chinese EV Exports?

A report by U.S. think tank Rhodium Group suggests the EU should impose a 50% tariff increase to deter low-priced Chinese electric car sales in the EU. The report argues that a 10% to 15% tariff is not enough as Chinese manufacturers could still profit significantly due to cost advantages.

For example, the researchers at Rhodium Group cited BYD’s all-electric Seal U as an example, noting that while it sells for €20,500 in China with a profit of €1,300. Its price in the EU is €42,000, yielding a profit of up to €14,300.

"According to our calculations, even with a 30% tariff, the company’s profit in the EU would still be 15% higher than in China (€4,700), indicating that exports to Europe remain highly attractive," the report states.

The report suggests that to deter Chinese electric cars from dominating the European market with low prices, the EU needs to impose a 50% tariff on imported Chinese electric vehicles.

Continued Rapid Expansion Expected for Chinese EV Exports

The Rodium report also points out that Chinese EV maker BYD may lower its prices in order to achieve its goal of capturing 5% of the EU market by 2025 and 10% by 2030. Many other brands of Chinese electric vehicles also enjoy higher profit margins in the EU.

But, analysts say that restrictions on the export of Chinese-made cars to the EU will not hinder car makers like BYD and Chery from pursuing their global ambitions.

In 2024, China will contribute to 60% of global sales of new energy vehicles, with exports of new energy vehicles expected to reach 1.8 million units, a year-on-year increase of 50%, according to various estimates by Chinese auto associations.


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