William Li, the CEO of Chinese EV maker Nio, at the Shanghai auto show
William Li, the CEO of Chinese EV maker Nio, at the Shanghai auto show

Why are Chinese EVs meeting so much resistance?

There was a time when the world looked to China to reduce its emissions.

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 China was, they quite rightly pointed out, one of the globe’s worst polluters but it’s never been the world’s worst offender. There are many arguments why the obvious one is the per capita argument: China has more people, so it should have more pollution. 

Then the manufacturing argument: China manufactures more than any other country, then the export of dirty technology argument, until recent years, the West exported their industries to China because it was better over there.

All these are valid arguments. China produces almost 30 per cent of all the world’s manufactured goods, 45 per cent of the world’s chemicals and 54 per cent of the world’s steel was indeed a big polluter.

Action

Something needed to be done and it was. China reforested more of its country than any other; 70 million hectares with a target of 70 billion trees. In fact, they haven’t just made one industry out of it, they’ve made two, because it’s also huge tourism draw with 1.5 billion visits to National Forests in an average year, as well as installed more solar power than the rest of the world combined. It also has more wind power than the combined totals of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

China also took many of the gas-guzzling cars off the roads and now, there are more electric vehicles — almost 100 per cent of public transport, food and parcel deliveries in most cities are done on electric power, the skies really are cleaner and the air really is fresher.

But then came the naysayers: first of all, EVs won’t be powerful enough to pull a trailer, until that was proven wrong. So, another problem was created; EV range is an issue, but China overcame that by installing literally millions of public, private and shared EV charging stations.

Even the EV car companies got on the bandwagon with US company Telsa announcing the installation of their 10,000th (and still counting) charging station but they were eclipsed by BYD, which has 760,000 of them.

Controversies

Huawei has introduced a “fusion Charger” allowing for a nine-minute full charge, Nio has battery swap-out for its owners allowing for eight-minute replacements.  If power, range and waiting time problems have been eliminated, what’s left?

The Guardian now reports that range concerns have given way to security concerns. Apparently, China’s EVs can act as spies. Well, we know that cars are getting smarter, but the truth is, scaremongering is getting smarter too, Chinese cars only do what European and American cars can already do, so what’s there to fear?

In one article, we were informed that all the major player in EV batteries happens to be Chinese – this is because for decades China has focused on scientific and technological development.

So, yes, it’s true; but it’s a threat that the West created for themselves, China dominates the market and just like the pollution of decades ago, China’s to blame again, not the policies that drove the situation.

And there’s another one, Chinese companies (same as US companies) are obliged to hand over material required by the government if the government asks for it. This then apparently creates an unimaginable issue for people like Tom Cotton in the US Senate who can’t seem to understand that a US-registered business, in this case, TikTok, has absolutely no requirement to answer any of Beijing’s questions. There’s the solution, force them to register locally.

So, there we have it, our cars can spy on us, they can shut down the grid if we’re not careful, they can send information back to Beijing and they can force Uyghurs to work in a battery factory because an American agricultural machinery company has put them out of work in the cotton fields and the owner of the company was once part of China’s governance.

If the media was where it stopped, we could all breathe a sigh of relief.  After all, not many believe what they read in the papers, do they? However, the politicians are also instigating, with the USA and EU spearheading.

The USA’s Secretary of Commerce, Gina Marie Raimondo, and the EU’s President, Ursula Von Der Leyen, have jumped on this bandwagon, with Ms Raimondo asking: “Do you want all that data going to Beijing?”, while in her State of the Union Address, Von Der Leyen announced an “Anti-Subsidy investigation into Electric Vehicles coming from China”. 

Being ahead

Naysayers complained about range, they complained about power, they complained about security and even played the Uyghur trump card, but none of them worked because it was never about any of them, it’s because China’s cars are too cheap for European buyers.

There isn’t a fear of security, if there was, they’d do what they did with Huawei and ban them, there are no perceived human rights abuses because they’d just do what they did with HKVision and sanction them, it isn’t about them potentially taking over the grid, because they can check against that and guard against hacking, as all responsible corporations do, or should!  

China’s supply chain efficiencies and lower production costs mean the European Union can’t make a car for the price BYD can sell theirs; and for capitalists, that’s the end of their game, a game in which China has taken a significant and seemingly insurmountable lead.

The author is a staff at the Nobel International Business School

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