Still little-known in Europe, the Chinese electric car champion BYD nevertheless snatched from the American Tesla the title of largest global seller of vehicles of this type in the fourth quarter of 2023, a sign of the dynamism of Chinese manufacturers in this niche. Tesla, however, remains the biggest seller for the whole year. This is the astonishing story of BYD, originally a simple battery manufacturer and now a key player in the automobile of tomorrow.
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BYD (acronym for “Build Your Dreams”) was founded in 1995 in Shenzhen, a metropolis in southern China where many technology groups (Huawei, Tencent, etc.) have their headquarters. The company, initially specializing in the design and manufacture of batteries, diversified into automobiles from 2003. BYD's close collaboration with the city of Shenzhen, where public buses switched to all -electric from 2017, has been an accelerator.
China “thought about the electrification of public transport well before all other countries”, reports analyst Tu Le, from the specialist firm Sino Auto Insights, based in Beijing, to AFP. “BYD was able to learn” from this experience. The brand now supplies batteries to the world's main manufacturers, including Tesla, BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Last year, BYD also became the first manufacturer in the world to reach the symbolic milestone of 5 million electric vehicles produced.
China, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases in absolute terms, very early on made the switch to electricity. Generous purchasing subsidies have enabled sales to take off, while many innovative local manufacturers have emerged to support this transition in the world's largest automobile market. This context was more than favorable to BYD.
At the end of 2022, the Chinese government estimated subsidies and tax breaks at more than 200 billion yuan (around 26 billion euros) just for the purchase of electric vehicles. This support has given Chinese companies a distinct advantage over their foreign competitors. The European Union, which is worried about the strong growth of Chinese brands on its market for its manufacturers, opened an investigation in September into suspicions of unfair competition.
BYD, already known in Europe for its electric buses, launched an offensive for its cars in 2022 during the Paris Motor Show. The brand ceased production of gasoline cars that same year and now focuses solely on hybrid and electric models. It announced last month the construction of its first European car factory in Europe, in Hungary.
The country is poised to become a major producer of batteries for electric vehicles - the second in Europe after Germany - with a huge factory also planned by a Chinese group, CATL. Elon Musk, boss of Tesla, mocked BYD in 2011, which was then only a small local manufacturer and “not” really a competitor, according to him. “Have you seen their cars?” he laughed during an interview with Bloomberg.