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Domestic brands look to grow global markets

By LI FUSHENG | China Daily | Updated: 2024-07-08 09:52

Workers assemble an electric car in BYD's factory in Rayong, Thailand, on July 4. CHALINEE THIRASUPA/REUTERS

Chinese carmakers are revving up efforts to expand their overseas footprint, which analysts say is essential as they grow into globally influential companies.

BYD kicked off operations at its Thai plant on Thursday, where its 8 millionth new energy vehicle rolled off its assembly line that day.

Construction on the plant in Rayong was completed in just 16 months, with an annual production capacity of 150,000 vehicles. It is projected to generate 10,000 jobs, said the carmaker.

The plant is also the Chinese automaker's first factory in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing regional electric vehicle market where it has become the dominant player.

Thailand is a regional auto assembly and export hub, and has long been dominated by Japanese carmakers such as Toyota Motor, Honda Motor and Isuzu Motors in the age of gasoline vehicles.

"BYD's investment in Thailand, along with its advanced production technology, will drive the development of the new energy vehicle industry in Thailand and across ASEAN countries," said Thailand's Minister of Industry Pimphattra Wichaikul.

Southeast Asia is emerging as a hub for Chinese carmakers, especially those which produce new energy vehicles.

Besides BYD, other companies including Neta and Aion have established plants in the region.

Aion said construction on its manufacturing facility in Thailand is scheduled to be finished later this month. It is also building a plant in Indonesia, which is expected to start production around the end of the year.

Neta's two plants, one in Thailand and the other in Indonesia, have already started vehicle production.

In Southeast Asia, Neta comes second only to BYD in terms of EV sales, according to the China Insights Consultancy.

Chinese carmakers are also considering or have started to build plants in Europe and South America.

Additionally, Central Asia is emerging as an important destination for Chinese vehicle makers.

BYD has established a production base in Uzbekistan.

In Kazakhstan, the largest of the Central Asian markets, Geely now offers seven models. Since late 2022, it has opened 16 dealerships and showrooms in the country, covering major cities.

Central Asian countries are emerging as important growth engines for Chinese carmakers, said Geely. It added that the company entered Kyrgyzstan last year and is keen to make forays into Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Geely is highlighting the overall importance of overseas business in its development. Last week, CEO Gan Jiayue said Geely has scaled up its 2024 target of overall exports to 380,000 units, which is 50,000 more than the goal set earlier this year.

Kazakhstan's fast pace of urbanization, expanded road length and young consumers' preference for smart technologies have made these markets more proactive in embracing Chinese vehicles, said Wan Zhe, a researcher at the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University.

Shi Qingke, president of Great Wall Motor International, said the company is confident about the Kazakh market. Last year, it sold 8,824 vehicles in the country.

"As China-Kazakhstan economic and trade ties continue to deepen, Chinese automobile brands will have broader prospects and a promising future in the Central Asian country," Shi said.

The Hebei province-based company has established 28 dealerships in Kazakhstan, covering 20 major cities. It plans to add new dealerships in Almaty and Astana in the third quarter of this year.

Passenger vehicle manufacturers are not the only beneficiaries of Kazakhstan's growing demand for new cars. By 2023, Yutong Bus had sold over 5,000 buses in the country.

The company found that its demand for new energy buses has soared notably in recent years. It exported more than 200 new energy buses to Kazakhstan in 2023 alone. Yutong has been assembling vehicles in Kazakhstan as well.

Wang Qing, an expert at the Development Research Center of the State Council, said it is a trend for Chinese carmakers to build manufacturing facilities overseas as they grow into global companies.

"We will gradually enter into the phase of building global capacity and exporting our technology, even without any request of local governments," Wang said in an interview with the China Automotive News.

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