German automakers in ‘darkest moment’ speed up EV transition – Chinese executive

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MUNICH (Reuters) – German automakers under heavy pressure from Chinese competition are speeding up their transition to electric vehicles, enabling partnerships with the likes of EV startup Xpeng, its president Brian Gu said in an interview on Wednesday.

Of new EVs sold in Europe in 2023, 8% were made by Chinese brands, up from 6% last year and 4% in 2021, according to autos consultancy Inovev.

“It is perhaps the darkest moment for German automakers but I also feel their strongest determination ever to change at the IAA,” Gu said on the sidelines of Munich’s IAA car show.

Chinese EV startups need to leverage German automakers’ scale, branding and investments to lower costs and survive, said Gu.

Xpeng recently struck a deal with Volkswagen to jointly build two new models in China. Others, like LeapMotor are also seeking partnerships to boost sales globally and help them survive China’s highly competitive and consolidating domestic market.

But boosting sales further requires overcoming obstacles including stereotypes of Chinese manufacturing, import costs, and a less developed EV market.

“We need to seek cooperations in a humble position even if we have grown into giants,” Jia Jianxu, general manager of the joint venture between Chinese state-owned SAIC and Volkswagen, said at an event hosted by Chinese magazine China Auto Review in Munich on Tuesday.

The number of Chinese companies at Germany’s IAA car show has doubled and China’s largest EV conference, the World New Energy Vehicle Congress, is taking place within the IAA on Wednesday and Thursday, with high-ranking officials including China’s “Father of EVs” Wan Gang attending.

At the IAA’s opening ceremony on Tuesday, German chancellor Olaf Scholz said Chinese competition should spur German industry on, not scare it.

Chinese executives, too, expressed admiration for what Europe’s automakers had to offer.

“I feel a bit anxious after seeing so many new technologies at the IAA for two days,” You Zheng, vice-general manager of China’s Dongfeng Motor, said on the sidelines of the show.

“Europe is actually not pausing in EV transition… we still need to ramp up more efforts to improve our capacities in core technologies.”

(This story has been refiled to correct Gu’s title to president, not CEO, in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Zhang Yan, Writing by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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