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Chinese EV makers will drive around EU tariffs

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The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

By Katrina Hamlin

HONG KONG, June 12 (Reuters Breakingviews) -Chinese electric-car makers in Europe can circumnavigate the bloc’s new duties. Brussels will levy provisional tariffs ranging from 17% for BYD 002594.SZ, 1211.HK to 38% for MG-owner SAIC on battery-powered vehicles from the People's Republic, the European Commission announced on Wednesday. Those relatively low rates will slow, not stop, their march into the European Union.

At levels lower than around 50%, exporting products to the EU would still be commercially appealing for many automakers, according to the Rhodium Group. True, they must either pass on the expense to customers, or squeeze margins by swallowing the costs. But for privately-held BYD this burden is barely more than the EU’s pre-existing 10% duty. And even for the likes of state-backed SAIC, which was hit harder owing to a lack of cooperation and higher subsidies, there could be workarounds.

A few deep-pocketed groups will invest in manufacturing within the EU. BYD and Chery have already confirmed plans in Hungary and Spain, respectively. European countries are competing to attract more Chinese carmakers to follow their lead, developing local supply chains and jobs. An EV factory generally requires sales of around 100,000 units a year to be worth the risk. But a half-way house known as knock-down manufacturing, where key parts like batteries are imported and merely assembled locally, could appeal.

Carmakers can also find affordable production bases beyond the bloc. Nearby Morocco, where Chinese battery makers including $5 billion Gotion 002074.SZ are setting up shop, or Turkey, which is levying its own duties on Chinese imports, are convenient. And there are more far-flung hubs that allow manufacturers to leverage free trade agreements with the EU, like South Korea, where Geely-backed Polestar PSNY.O has agreed to produce cars at Renault’s RENA.PA existing factory. CEO Thomas Ingenlath says the company can even export to Europe from its new South Carolina facility. Geely is subject to duties of 20%, per the Commission’s release.

A swerve in strategy is another possibility. Instead of exporting electric vehicles, marques could opt to try and sell more hybrids or even internal combustion engines in Europe, neither of which are targeted by the tariffs. Just last month, BYD announced a plug-in hybrid version of its popular Seal model will be available in Europe soon. That would make sense, because duties aren’t the only risk. Elections for the European Parliament on Sunday saw gains for the far-right and losses for green-focused parties, which could undermine support for EVs more broadly. National policies in the bloc have also proven subject to change: Germany, Europe’s largest auto market, ended its subsidy programme prematurely in December.

Whatever Chinese carmakers do will be closely watched: EU imports of EVs from China jumped from $1.6 billion in 2020 to $11.5 billion in 2023, Rhodium says — 37% of all EV imports in the bloc. The provisional tariffs also won’t be locked in until November, leaving some room for manoeuvre.

Brussels could even engineer entirely new carrots and sticks, such as higher duties on batteries, to further protect local brands, depending on how China Inc navigates this roadblock. But fear of Beijing tariff reprisals elsewhere will stop these being excessive, as will EU targets for all new cars registered in Europe by 2035 to be zero-emissions. The most likely upshot is fewer China EV exports on European roads — but not a lot less.

Follow @KatrinaHamlin on X


The European Commission will provisionally apply duties on electric vehicles made in China and exported to the bloc, according to a press release on June 12.

The duties will be set at 17.4% for BYD, 20% for Geely and 38.1% for state-backed SAIC. Other Battery Electric Vehicles producers in China which cooperated in the investigation will be subject to a weighted average duty of 21%, while those which did not cooperate in the investigation will face duties of 38.1%.

The provisional duties can be implemented from July. A final decision on the duties will be made later in the year.

Chinese carmakers’ Hong Kong-listed shares fell in response to an earlier report from the Financial Times suggesting tariffs would increase to 35%. By market close on June 12, Nio’s shares dropped 8.5%, Geely Auto 4.8% and BYD 3.7%. The official announcement came after the market close in Hong Kong.

Many companies import electric cars from China to the EU https://reut.rs/4eloHBu

Editing by George Hay and Streisand Neto


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