MG is easily outselling Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley combined

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The wave of Chinese cars has arrived in the UK, and Mike Rutherford thinks it’s not about to stop any time soon

Emerging from its winter slumber, the somewhat sleepy Western world has been rudely awoken during these first days of spring by the Chinese. By far the world’s largest motor-manufacturing nation, China has now ceased putting us on notice that it’s heading our way. Its new approach is to simply open the floodgates. Consequently, the unstoppable “tsunami of Chinese cars” I warned you about, via this column long ago, is now in full flow.

The products being delivered to us are better designed and built, lower priced and more credible/desirable than most consumers expected. BYD and GWM Ora already outsell a few long-established western brands. And armed with its range of made-in-China models, MG is easily beating the might of Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley combined in UK sales.

To rub salt into the wounds, other Chinese-built products – the Dacia Spring, new MG3, BYD Seal U-DM-i, IM L6 and Yangwang U8 – were among the stars of the Geneva Motor Show just gone. Days later, the EU gave itself a late-in-the-day alarm call before finally waking up to the fact that China has arrived on its patch. “EU producers could suffer harm, which would be difficult to repair if Chinese imports continue at this accelerated rate,” it complained.

But it failed to state the bleeding obvious: that Germany, France, Spain and other big nations must surely help themselves by finding ways to build the right cars at the right price, thereby playing China at its own game.

It’s a similarly sleepy story in the US, where there are reports that President Biden “hates” what the Chinese are doing, especially with models such as the entry-level BYD that in China costs about £10k, roughly a third of the price of the cheapest EV in the States!   

Portugal’s Carlos Tavares, CEO of the Netherlands-based Stellantis empire that includes Vauxhall and others, reckons the China-inspired rush to affordable electric cars will end in “disaster”. And Italy’s Luca De Meo, CEO of the France-based Renault/Alpine/Dacia family, admits, “We need to catch up fast with China.” With this in mind, he’s arranged for the Chinese to build his Dacia Spring EV. On this evidence, De Meo has adopted the if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em approach. Long may this continue if it means more £15k EVs.

Labour and other cost restrictions in Europe and North America mean it’s increasingly difficult to build dirt-cheap cars in the West. But China has the space (it’s the country with the second largest land area – 3.6 million square miles), the people (around 1.4 billion, many of them willing/able/keen to succeed), and a history of car manufacturing (since 1955).

With this sort of scale, population and proven track record, is there another country better placed to build affordable, reasonable quality cars for the cash-strapped peoples of the world? I think not. Wearing a variety of European, US and Chinese name plates, around 20 per cent of the EVs currently on the roads of Western Europe were built in China. It’s not a case of if that percentage figure will rise, but by how much, and when? Hugely and rapidly is the short answer.

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