According to the article written by Tony Chen, Head of Investment Research at UBS Asset Management, the European Commission initiated an investigation in October into Chinese electric car manufacturers suspected of receiving national subsidies. The EU believes that Chinese state subsidies will create an “unfair trade competition environment” for EU electric car manufacturers.
If the EU’s investigation uncovers “subsidy evidence,” it will result in the calculation of corresponding “average anti-subsidy taxes,” which will apply to all electric vehicles imported from China, including prominent models produced in China such as Volkswagen, Tesla, BMW, and others.
The UBS research team suggests that, in the worst-case scenario, the EU may impose additional tariffs on Chinese electric cars imported into the EU.
What led to the trade conflict between China and the EU in electric vehicles? Firstly, the disparity in tariffs plays a crucial role.
Currently, Chinese cars entering the European market face a 10% import tariff, while in China, the situation is reversed, with a 15% tariff imposed on cars imported from Europe. This significant gap indicates potential room for negotiation.
Additionally, a report from the European Commission reveals that China’s market share for electric vehicles in Europe has risen to 8%, with expectations to reach 15% by 2025.
However, this figure includes cars manufactured in China for international brands, not exclusively domestically produced Chinese electric vehicles. According to JATO, an automotive industry research organization, the market share of “pure” Chinese brand electric vehicles in Europe was still below 1% as of the first half of this year. Nevertheless, overall, it underscores the strong presence of Chinese-manufactured electric vehicles in Europe.
From a practical standpoint, initiating a trade war in the electric vehicle sector involves consideration of various complex background factors. China is not only a primary supplier of raw materials to Europe but also a crucial market for European brands. In fact, China is already the world’s largest sales market for electric vehicles.
Chinese Electric Cars Enjoy High Margins, Positioned for Price Wars
The research team at UBS believes that, given the potential to boost sales through lower pricing,the competitive pricing of electric vehicles between Chinese and European brands will be crucial. Taking Tesla as an example, the company has adopted an aggressive pricing strategy for its EVs. In April, Tesla lowered the selling prices in the European region, with the retail price for the popular Model Y around €46,000. According to JATO, the Model Y is currently the best-selling EV in the European Union this year, showcasing the positive impact of a competitive pricing strategy on sales.
Following this argument, another set of data from JATO reveals that the selling prices of Chinese brand EVs in Europe range from €50,000 to €60,000, approximately in line with the European average.
In comparison, the average selling price of Chinese EVs domestically in China is only around €30,000. This indicates that Chinese EV manufacturers exporting to the European market enjoy relatively higher margins, providing them with the capability to engage in price wars. One major reason for the cost advantage of Chinese electric cars lies in battery manufacturing.
According to a previous report by TrendForce, Chinese battery manufacturers command a global market share exceeding 60%, allowing them to cover the entire battery production chain, share production costs, and continually advance new technologies. Since batteries represent approximately 40% of the total vehicle cost, Chinese electric cars offer superior cost-effectiveness.
On the other hand, the space for European car manufacturers to gain a competitive advantage through subsidies has gradually diminished. As the EV market expands, government subsidies in Europe are losing momentum. Germany has already reduced EV subsidies from €5,000 per vehicle to €3,000 this year.
Similarly, subsidies in the Netherlands, of a similar scale, are subject to quota limitations and were even exhausted by mid-2022. This implies that entering a price war could place European EVs at a relative disadvantage.
Overall, the EV market exhibits high price sensitivity, and European automakers face challenges in terms of cost competitiveness. In contrast, Chinese EV manufacturers have a cost advantage. Consequently, there is a growing possibility of a trade conflict in the European electric vehicle market.