Companies like BYD and NIO are entering the European market with localized strategies and innovative solutions like battery leasing.
THE HAGUE/BERLIN, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Eight months ago, Ben Malawau, a Dutchman with more than 30 years of experience behind the wheel, decided to change his car. He then went out to test-drive a few new electric vehicles (EVs).
During a mere 30 minutes into his fifth test drive -- this time of Chinese EV maker BYD's Atto 3 -- a decision solidified for the 59-year-old "seasoned driver," concluding weeks of contemplation and selection.
Malawau said his first visit to BYD's showroom in Rotterdam was the result of a recommendation from his Chinese colleague and his prior knowledge of BYD's advanced battery technology. The Atto 3 made a compelling impression on Malawau in terms of its performance, features and value for money, leaving him with no hesitation to take it as his 10th car.
"We enjoy the car because of the large screen on the dashboard ... All the things are in place, it's very easy, very comfortable to drive," said Malawau, describing the model as offering "better quality and functionality" at a "cheaper price," loved by the whole family.
The Atto 3 exemplifies the burgeoning trend in Chinese new energy vehicle (NEV) design, characterized by the integration of advanced driver-assistance systems and digital features like entertainment and information systems. Such enhancements notably elevate the driving experience, making them a crucial factor in attracting European consumers.
In January, Malawau launched a Facebook group for Atto 3 owners, which has since expanded to over 300 members. "Every day we share our experiences with that car. And we are all very positive about it," he said.
Malawau and his online friends have a front-row seat to witness the growth of Chinese NEV sales in international markets, particularly in Europe.
Data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers revealed that from January to July this year, China exported 636,000 NEVs, a 150 percent increase compared to the previous year.
According to France's auto consultancy Inovev, Chinese EVs account for 8 percent of all new EVs sold in Europe this year, marking a steady increase from 6 percent in the previous year and 4 percent in 2021.
Recognizing the advantages of Chinese automakers, such as their rapid tech innovation and software development, as well as their early entry in the EV sector, Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Germany-based CAR Center Automotive Research Duisburg, reckoned "in the next five to ten years, a lot of Chinese electric vehicles and new energy vehicles will populate Europe's roads."
While gradually gaining consumer recognition in Europe, Chinese EV makers are crafting their very own approaches to establishing local partnerships and business networks.
Since October 2022, BYD has partnered with the Dutch firm Louwman Group to launch dealerships in the Netherlands. Up to now, they have effectively delivered more than 700 BYD electric cars, with two showrooms operating in the country's two largest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and an additional one under construction in Eindhoven, a hi-tech and design hub.
For Louwman's President Eric Louwman, BYD should be defined not merely as a Chinese brand but as a global player with a high technological level, good quality and the service backing of a local partner.
Another Chinese EV startup, NIO, has taken a different, direct-to-customer strategy, bypassing middleman retailers. Naturally, sparking customer interest and creating sellable features is of special relevance for this newcomer.
"If you want to become a great car company, the European market is a challenge that you can't evade," Chen Chen, managing director of NIO's European business development, told Xinhua. "But the market in Europe is very different from that in China."
Situated on Berlin's Kurfurstendamm Boulevard -- an iconic location where locals and visitors flock to discover the latest in fashion and designer items -- NIO's inaugural showroom in Germany could easily be confused with a co-working space, an art gallery or a cafe.
Serving as the essential first point of contact with customers, the showroom, from location to design, is carefully tailored to the local market. "We want local people to visit our place as a leisure destination."
Committed to effective localization and exploring innovative business models, NIO launched an initiative called "Battery as a Service," which is supported by its expanding network of battery swap stations. The brand allows consumers to buy a car separately from the battery with a more flexible payment structure. Simultaneously, users can subscribe to "battery packs" to enjoy access to NIO's power swap station and battery upgrade services.
For the interview with Xinhua, Chen drove from Amsterdam to Duesseldorf in a NIO EL7, a compact electric sports utility vehicle. Thanks to NIO's battery swap service, he could complete the 500-km round trip in a day without the need to stop for a recharge.
Currently, 98 percent of NIO's European customers opt to lease batteries and take advantage of the fast battery swapping service, Chen said.
While NIO has made a rapid entry into the German, Dutch, Swedish and Danish markets since its debut in the European market via Norway in 2021, its models are still relatively scarce on the streets. However, Chen emphasized, "We are not in a hurry."
"People in Europe have been buying cars for generations. We need to be patient to become their new choice," he said.
The confidence of Chinese EV manufacturers in their prospects is bolstered by a community of European car owners and industry insiders, who envisage further growth in the European market for Chinese EV brands, including BYD, NIO, Xpeng, Hongqi or Lynk & Co.
"In the next few years, I will still be driving the BYD, and I'm very confident and satisfied with it," Malawau said.