Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
China’s top EV maker offers a trio of models in Germany
BERLIN — Germans take huge pride in their automotive industry, and have never been eager to abandon their Audis, BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes for foreign makes.
But with a goal to change that, a Chinese automaker that sells the most electric cars in the world has begun offering three of its models in Germany.
BYD, founded in 1995 under the name Build Your Dreams, has become a behemoth in China, the world’s largest auto market, by focusing on electric vehicles. Last year it sold 1.86 million battery-powered cars, including plug-in hybrids, which have both an electric motor and a gas-powered engine. That topped Tesla’s 2022 sales total of 1.3 million cars, all of them battery-powered.
The vast majority of BYD cars are sold in China. But the Shenzen-based company is looking to expand in other parts of the world, including Europe and, in particular, Germany.
Buoyed by the surging demand for electric vehicles, coupled with the supply chain struggles still troubling European automakers, BYD introduced three models in Germany at the start of the year: the Atto-3, a compact sport utility vehicle; the Han, a sedan; and the Tang, a full-size SUV. In the coming months, the company plans to introduce several more. There have been reports that it is considering opening an assembly plant in Germany, which has Europe’s largest economy.
BYD is willing to take its time to become competitive in Germany, said Jan Grindemann, chief operating officer for Hedin Mobility Group, a Swedish company that is handling BYD’s imports into the country.
“I don’t think that it will happen overnight,” Grindemann said. “We need to build BYD up as a brand, and the way that we will convince people is through quality.”
It may not be easy. Germany has a crowded market — domestic automakers already produce 90 electric models and are racing to expand and improve their offerings. At the end of last year, a special government subsidy for electric vehicles came to an end. Then there’s the fact that BYD is largely unknown among car buyers outside China.
But the company is not unknown among investors. In 2008, Warren Buffett paid about $230 million for a nearly 10% stake in BYD, which started as a maker of rechargeable batteries. Last week, Charlie Munger, the vice chair of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, said that investment was now worth “about $8 billion,” CNBC reported.
The company already has made inroads in Europe with one kind of vehicle: electric buses. BYD has sold more than 3,000 battery-powered buses throughout the continent, and last year delivered its first five buses to Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s leading public transportation company, which plans to fully electrify its fleet by 2040.
BYD’s move into Germany’s auto dealerships was preceded by launches in Scandinavia. In late 2021, it started offering cars in Norway, which has Europe’s highest percentage of battery-powered vehicles. A year later it moved into Sweden, where its compact SUV became the fifth-biggest-selling battery-powered vehicle the month that it debuted.
In both countries BYD teamed up with an established distributor to help navigate the market, as it is doing in Germany. But Grindemann refused to draw comparisons between the experiences, pointing out that Scandinavia’s automobile market is dwarfed by the nearly 2.7 million cars registered last year in Germany.
As part of efforts to get more of its vehicles into circulation in Germany, BYD struck a six-year deal in October to sell about 100,000 cars to the country’s largest rental company, Sixt. The chance to let rental drivers try out electric vehicles may lead to more sales.
BYD’s cars “are well suited to the expectations and needs of European customers with a quality feel,” Sixt said when announcing the deal.