BYD calls for unity among China automakers

During a recent event, BYD not only celebrated reaching a production milestone but also championed China's rise as a global powerhouse in the auto world.

BYD calls for unity among China automakers
Security guards stand at the BYD booth at the Auto Shanghai show, in Shanghai, China April 19, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song/file photo/File Photo

The backstory: BYD, the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) company backed by famous investor Warren Buffet, is a heavyweight in the EV world. It’s not only making EVs but also killing it in the EV battery department. In fact, it recently became the world's second-largest EV battery producer.

Over the past year, BYD managed to sell 1.86 million vehicles. That's more than what it sold in the previous four years combined. And in the EV world, it’s dominating China's new-energy market, grabbing 37% market share so far this year. That's up from 29% in the previous year. In the first quarter of 2023, BYD outpaced Volkswagen to become China's top-selling car brand.

More recently: BYD has hit a few bumps in the road along the way. Tesla, one of its biggest rivals in the Chinese market, started slashing prices last year on its vehicles to keep the competition fierce. This sparked a price war, and BYD got caught in the crossfire. The company’s value dropped US$18 billion in February.

Then, in May, a major industry player, Great Wall, filed a complaint with Chinese regulators alleging that BYD's hybrid models were not meeting emissions standards. But BYD responded, saying its vehicles were up to standard and suggesting it might consider legal action to defend its position.

And just last month, the China Association of Auto Manufacturers backed out of a pledge to prevent "abnormal pricing" practices, which was kind of seen as a truce in the ongoing price war. The association said its change of heart was because of China's antitrust laws.

The development: Now, BYD is calling for unity in China’s auto industry. During a recent event, BYD not only celebrated reaching a production milestone but also championed China's rise as a global powerhouse in the auto world. The company’s founder, Wang Chuanfu, made a point about how important it is for Chinese brands to go global, resonating with the emotions of China's massive population. The event featured a video that traced the history of Chinese automakers, from the establishment of the state-run FAW Group in 1956 to the rise of modern EV startups like Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto. The underlying theme was unity, emphasizing a shared direction despite diverse paths.

The message was straightforward – it's time to "demolish the old legends" and create world-class "Chinese Autos." The video gained traction on Chinese social media and even got thumbs up from rival CEOs like Nio's William Li and Li Auto's Li Xiang. But some cautionary voices spoke up, too. Some carmakers warned that Chinese brands might face higher regulatory risks abroad, especially in Europe, with the message. A senior exec of China's Great Wall Motor also said Chinese brands need to face the “reality of competition.”

Key comments:

"I believe the time has come for Chinese brands," said BYD founder and chairman Wang Chuanfu at the event, standing in front of an image of the logos of 12 major Chinese automakers. "It's an emotional need for the 1.4 billion Chinese people to see a Chinese brand becoming global."

"Salute to BYD!" said Li Xiang, CEO of Li Auto, who reposted the BYD video. "Let's give a thumbs up to every participant in the new energy era!"

"At such a critical moment, how can Chinese automakers be together?" said Wang Yuanli, Great Wall Motor's chief technology officer, on his Weibo account."If we only talk about being together but keep our bitterness in our hearts, it would be better to have the fight first."

"BYD is very, very strong," said Volkswagen CEO Oliver Blume during an event at the Shanghai auto show in April. "In the end, not everything is about volume. We want to have a successful business and it is more important to be the best international group here in China."