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Carmakers aiming to leap forward in Year of Rabbit

China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-30 09:24

Customers examine a Hongqi SUV at a shopping mall in Tianjin on Jan 26. [Photo by Li Fusheng/China Daily]

Editor's Note: China is the world's largest and most dynamic vehicle market, where established marques and startups vie to roll out new models. Chinese car consumers probably have the greatest know-how of cutting-edge vehicle-related smart technology, ranging from head-up displays to autonomous driving. Car dealers are revolutionizing their way of business, showcasing their models in urban shopping malls. Undoubtedly, there will be more exciting news to come in the Year of the Rabbit thanks to the recovery of the macroeconomy and the optimization of COVID-19 prevention and control measures. Here are the top five highlights that are worth following for car aficionados and Chinese auto market observers.

1. Global auto execs to resume China visits

China will see an influx of global carmakers' top executives this year, following the optimization of COVID-19 prevention and control measures in the world's largest vehicle market. Due to the lingering pandemic, they rarely made trips over the past three years to China, which is one of the most important places of electrification and digital innovation for the global auto industry. Volkswagen CEO and Porsche Chairman Oliver Blume, who has arrived for a business trip involving Beijing and Shanghai this week, is the first among global auto executives to visit China this year. BMW Group Chairman Oliver Zipse told Chinese reporters in January that he will attend the Shanghai auto show in April. He visited China in November as a member of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's delegation. Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes said a visit to the Shanghai auto show is sitting high on his agenda. "China is for us, for me personally such an important market," said Mueller-Oetvoes.

2. Startup to rely on traditional wisdom

China's electric car startup Xpeng is garnering attention because of its recruitment of Yi Han, a veteran from Volvo-owner Geely, to take the helm of its sales, marketing and public relations. The move came as Xpeng is losing steam following the launch of its ill-positioned and poorly-priced flagship SUV. Chinese media reported that the startup is even courting Wang Fengying, former president of Great Wall Motors, China's largest SUV and pickup truck maker. Xpeng did not deny the report but added that "top talent is welcome". On Jan 17, Xpeng cut the prices of its models by up to 36,000 yuan ($5,306), as part of its efforts to regain momentum, although many of its rivals announced price hikes due to China's withdrawal of its decadelong subsidies. An Xpeng salesperson in Tianjin's Binhai New Area told China Daily on Thursday that it takes a week or so for a customer to receive a P7 sedan. However, a Beijing P7 owner, who placed the order in June, did not receive the model until September.

3. BMW to take on Chinese electric rivals

German carmaker BMW once again took home the accolade of the best-selling premium marque in China in 2022, but the majority of its sales were gasoline vehicles. The Munich-based car group, although No 1 in terms of electric vehicle sales among traditional premium marques, is battling a strong headwind from Chinese startups including Nio, which claimed to have outsold BMW models in big cities, including Shanghai. BMW is planning to roll out more electric models this year in China. It said there will be 11 electric models, including China-made ones, available, more than double the figure of 2022. BMW Chairman Oliver Zipse said he test drove more than 10 Chinese models in the past six months for a better understanding of the market. Chinese consumers often complain that EVs from international brands are inferior in terms of infotainment and other smart features. It is time for BMW to convince the tech-savvy Chinese car buyers with their new salvo of products that it can learn new tricks as well.

4. Nation's vehicle exports to surge forward

China, as the world's largest vehicle market, is expecting its overseas sales to reach a record in 2023, said analysts. Vehicle makers managed to secure a sales growth of 2.1 percent in 2022 but its exports soared 54.4 percent year-on-year. For quite a long time, China shipped roughly 1 million vehicles a year overseas. The figure suddenly soared to over 2 million units in 2021 and then surged forward to reach 3.11 million units in 2022. New energy vehicles, which consist of electric cars and plug-in hybrids, were one of the driving forces. In 2022, a total of 679,000 NEVs were shipped overseas from China, up 120 percent year-on-year, by carmakers ranging from Tesla and SAIC Motor to FAW Group's Hongqi and Great Wall Motors. Fu Bingfeng, executive vice-president of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, said China's auto exports are seeing "leapfrog" development due to their advantages in batteries, electric motors and electric control systems.

5. BYD to consolidate top position

Warren Buffett-backed BYD saw a meteoritic rise in 2022, a stark contrast to a legion of carmakers who would congratulate themselves on not losing too many consumers. It sold 1.86 million vehicles in 2022, up 152 percent year-on-year and toppling FAW-Volkswagen as the bestselling passenger carmaker in the country. The Shenzhen, Guangdong province-headquartered company stopped production and sales in April of conventional internal combustion engine models to focus on hybrids, electric cars and plug-in hybrids. The move skyrocketed its monthly sales from 106,000 units in April to 235,000 units in December. By the end of 2022, its cumulative new energy vehicle sales hit 3.7 million units. The ambitious carmaker unveiled a luxury marque in January with two models, one an off-roader and the other a supercar. BYD did not reveal their specific prices but said the marque's models will be priced at around 1 million yuan. The carmaker did not state its sales goal for 2023, but analysts estimate it may deliver up to 3 million vehicles.

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