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The Chinese EV market is exploding. Here are the 5 major Chinese EV brands you should know about.

The Chinese EV market is exploding. Here are the 5 major Chinese EV brands you should know about.
LifeThelife1 min read
The Panda Mini EV from Chinese auto giant Geely.Ng Han Guan/Associated Press
  • China-made EVs are now getting exported to Europe and beyond. They also are poised to enter the US market.
  • China's push for clean energy technology has given it an edge in this space.

China's electric vehicles are taking on the world. They may soon come to the US.

Electric taxis charge batteries at a charging station on February 7, 2023 in Yibin, Sichuan, China.      Yan Yicheng/VCG/Getty Images

China, the world's largest car market, is now a major automobile producer and exporter as well.

The Asian giant's EV edge is thanks to its push for clean energy technology, including in the transportation sector.

"Having recognized the potential of electric vehicles 15 years ago, China has since invested vast resources in building a competitive electric vehicle ecosystem," said Allianz in its report.

Chinese EV makers hold a competitive edge in "nearly all aspects" of the battery electric vehicle value chain, per Allianz.

Chinese electric vehicles, or EVs, are already being exported to Europe — the continent saw total EV sales reach a record 4.4 million units in 2022, accounting for nearly half of all new vehicle registrations in 2022, German financial services firm Allianz wrote in a May 9 report.

And now, industry experts tell Insider's Nora Naughton and Tim Levin that affordable Chinese EV cars are set to arrive in the competitive American market.

Given China's increasing foray into the global EV market, here are 5 major Chinese EV brands to know.

1. Warren Buffet-backed BYD is a top challenger to Tesla

1. Warren Buffet-backed BYD is a top challenger to Tesla
The BYD Seagull costs $11,000.      Aly Song/Reuters

BYD — an acronym for Build Your Dreams — is vying with American EV-maker Tesla to become the world's top-selling EV maker.

And it is already the top-selling EV brand in China, selling over 900,000 battery EVs in 2022 — more than Tesla sold in 2022.

The Chinese EV maker is backed by legendary investor Warren Buffet and recently expanded operations internationally. It now has operations in Norway, Denmark, the UK, Thailand, and Australia.

BYD's prices can be extremely competitive. Last month, the company launched an $11,000 hatchback at the Shanghai auto show called Seagull — which Insider's Tim Levin called "ridiculously cheap." In comparison, the price of a Tesla Model 3 starts from around $40,000.

Despite its foray into Europe and Southeast Asia, the company doesn't seem to have any plans to enter the US passenger market, BYD founder Wang Chuanfu said in March, per Bloomberg.

At present, BYD only has a small commercial vehicle business in the US, per Insider on May 17.

Even so, Buffet seems to think Tesla may still have an edge against BYD.

Berkshire Hathaway has reduced its stake in the Chinese EV maker because it doesn't want to compete with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Buffet said at the investment firm's annual shareholder meeting on May 6.

2. Nio, a premium EV brand, says it will not join Tesla's price war

2. Nio, a premium EV brand, says it will not join Tesla
A NIO EP9 electric vehicle.      Chen Wen/China News Service/Getty Image

Headquartered in Shanghai, Nio is a relatively young EV automobile company founded in 2014.

The startup is known for being a maker of premium smart EVs — and its cars can be even more expensive than Teslas, per CNBC.

Pricing on a midsize Nio ES7 SUV starts at around $68,000 — costlier than a Tesla Model Y which retails at about $38,000, and that's after Tesla's relentless price cuts this year, Barrons reported on April 18.

Even though it's priced in the premium range Nio still managed to post a 33% increase in vehicle sales last year — but the company is still in the red after posting the equivalent of $7.4 million in revenue in 2022.

Nio's full-year operational loss in 2022 was 15.6 billion yuan, or $2.3 billion, according to company financials.

"We will certainly not join the price war," William Li, Nio's CEO, told CNBC in an April interview.

Li told Germany's Heise Autos that the company plans to enter the US market by 2025.

While Nio hasn't entered the US market yet, it's already selling in European countries including Norway and the Netherlands.

3. Wuling is known for a puny EV that outsold even Tesla in China

3. Wuling is known for a puny EV that outsold even Tesla in China
A Wuling Air EV.      Xu Qin/Xinhua/Getty Image

Wuling, a brand that falls under a joint venture between General Motors, China's SAIC Motors, and Liuzhou Wuling Motors, is known for the Hongguang Mini, a tiny EV that outsold even Tesla in China in 2021.

The Hongguang Mini was the top-selling EV in China in 2022 with sales of over 550,000 units, per state news agency Xinhua.

The starting price of a Hongguang Mini was $4,500 in 2021 and measured just under 115 inches in length and about 59 inches in width. In comparison, a Fiat 500 is around 140 inches in length — but the Hongguang Mini has the same amount of cargo space as the Fiat, per Insider's Tim Levin's May 2021 post.

A newer version of Wuling's compact car, the $5,500 Wuling Air is now going global, and was dominating EV sales in Indonesia, according to a February 2023 report in the Rest of World.

The news site described the Wuling Air as a "tiny, comically square car."

4. Geely's Zeekr is just 2 years old, but it already has international ambitions

4. Geely
The Zeekr 001.      Zeekr

Zeekr is an electric vehicle brand under the privately held Chinese auto giant Geely — which bought the Swedish brand Volvo in 2010.

Founded only in 2021, Zeeker already has international ambitions.

In April this year, Zeekr said it plans to sell its newly launched SUV-style Zeekr X and Zeekr 001 EV sedan in Western Europe, Reuters reported. The EV maker did not indicate a timeline for its plans.

The $27,000 Zeekr X even has facial recognition software to unlock the car and owners can also opt to install a refrigerator in the car, Andy An, the CEO of Zeekr, said at an event, Reuters further reported.

The company aims to deliver 40,000 Zeekr X cars to the China market this year, with its first domestic deliveries starting in June, An said per Reuters.

And even though Zeekr is backed by a major auto player, it still trails its EV peers in the domestic Chinese markets.

Zeekr sold just 15,234 of its existing models in the first quarter of 2023 — this is half of the 31,000 vehicles Nio sold and just 10% of what Tesla sold in the same period, per Reuters.

5. Xpeng has ambitions to deliver half of the vehicles it produces to countries outside China

5. Xpeng has ambitions to deliver half of the vehicles it produces to countries outside China
The XPeng G6 electric SUV.      VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Guangzhou-headquartered EV car maker Xpeng Motors has been expanding aggressively in Europe, starting with Norway in December 2020.

Since then, the Alibaba-backed automobile manufacturer has been opening retail outlets and establishing dealership networks on the continent, where new energy vehicle sales are soaring.

Xpeng vice president and chairman Brian Gu told CNBC in November 2021 that it eventually wants to ship half its vehicles to countries outside China. He did not provide a time frame for the goal.

"As a company that focuses on global opportunities, we want to be balanced with our contribution of delivery — half from China, half from outside China — in the long run," Gu told the network.

In February, Xpeng launched an SUV and sports sedan for order in Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands.

Xpeng's global foray gels with Beijing's goal for the country's top two EV makers to sell 10% of their vehicles overseas by 2025, per the South China Morning Post in October 2018. Beijing did not name any companies.

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