Chinese auto startup Nio just had its $1 billion US initial public offering. While the share price fluctuates, investors ask the same question: will the Shanghai-based upstart supplant Tesla as the world’s top luxury electric car brand? Like Tesla, its cars offer sleek, space-age designs. It also has a flair for marketing stunts: in Nio’s case, setting the fastest lap ever recorded by an electric car at Germany’s Nürburgring. But Nio is offering cutting-edge technology at jaw-dropping prices. Its ES8, priced at RMB 448,000 ($70,000), costs only around half as much as a Tesla Model X does in China.
Like its whole economy, China’s auto market grew at breakneck pace in the 2000s, and while it is slowing down, it still contains enormous potential in terms of both raw sales and innovation as China shifts toward electric. The Chinese government is actively promoting new-energy vehicles, offering subsidies that amount to about 23% of the price of a vehicle. And consumers, many of whom no longer consider car ownership as a status symbol, are more willing to buy electric cars. Yet despite favorable policies and growing market demand, there are challenges ahead: lack of power stations, fragmented manufacturing of power batteries and insufficient innovation.
As people imagine the future of transportation, the first thing they think of is driverless cars. There are still many questions to consider, however, and not just at the level of personal safety. How will transportation networks adapt? What about laws and regulations? What will be the impact on logistics and employment? Many technology firms and automakers have had their prototypes, but none which could be commercialized for public use. Wu Gansha, a veteran engineer and former director of Intel Labs China, suggests a rapid way to commercialize driverless cars. He claims that the car produced by his startup will commercialize in two years.
One could be forgiven for thinking that after purchasing Uber’s China operations, Didi Chuxing—which now boasts over 300 million users and over 80% of China’s market—would be on easy street. But things are never that simple in the Chinese market. Figures have shown Didi is losing users and drivers. Under strict Chinese local governments’ new policies, Didi may face bigger challenges than Uber China. Meanwhile more people cast doubts over its business model. Boasting a sharing economy model, car-pooling, the company now relies more on providing car-hailing services with prices lower than taxis to maintain its scale. Once the subsidies withdrew, users walk away.
China is keen to deploy self-driving cars for the same reasons as everyone else is: Autonomous vehicles may significantly improve traffic and environmental conditions. According to research figures, widespread adoption of automated vehicles could reduce automobiles on city streets by 60%, vehicle emissions by 80% and traffic accidents by 90%. While the West has superior technology, its governments lack the authority to swiftly implement massive infrastructure projects. Some experts believe Beijing’s top-down control capabilities could even give China an edge over the US and Europe in the race to develop self-driving cars.
Doing business in China has never been easy for foreign-owned companies, but Uber has largely managed to avoid conflict by operating as a separate Chinese subsidiary, Uber China, on the mainland. However, Uber China still faces many challenges: competing with Didi, not being profitable, and even worse, its business has always been riding on a government regulation fence. In a market that is as challenging, and competitive as China’s, the answer to winning over China’s smartphone users lies deeper than just competitive pricing or partnerships.
French carmaker Renault has finally begun production in China after selling imported cars here for more than a decade. In February 2014, Renault signed a joint venture agreement with Dongfeng Motor Corporation. Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of the Renault Group, once said that he hoped that Dongfeng Renault could get 3% of the Chinese market. Jacques Daniel, CEO of Dongfeng Renault, has his work cut out for him: the market is slowing down and rivals are already well-entrenched. In this interview Daniel explains how the company is adjusting its strategy for a slowing Chinese market, marketing to the Chinese consumer and the opportunity in electric vehicles.
BMW China President and CEO Karsten Engel on how China became the company’s largest market globally, and how things are shaping up in the ‘New Normal’.
As awareness increases, Chinese consumers are taking to electric vehicles. But just how evolved is the Chinese electric car industry?
This week, the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiative won more support; fluctuations in the value of the RMB caused concerns; and Tencent revealed its smart-car ambitions.