Until recently, vehicles sold in European markets have tended to be powered by internal combustion engines or “petrol”, i.e. fossil fuels, from the Middle East. But now, Chinese carmakers and their ambitions to capture a large share of the European market are pushing Europe’s carmakers to up their game, and quickly.
Driving a Chinese-made electric car in Europe could be more expensive than buying one in Germany. But the trade-off for electric cars in Europe is: The plugs in Europe are smaller and lighter and take longer to charge; the range is, by European standards, limited. In the case of a small electric car, it might be possible to go 150 miles in a day. China already offers plug-in vehicles of these classes. The other challenge is the relatively small number of charging stations and lack of enough electricity grid capacity.
Electric vehicles aren’t new. New York car owners can drive their Nissan Leafs to New Jersey and charge. But most car owners in Europe don’t have access to that kind of public mobility, except perhaps when traveling to the U.S.A. in summer months.
To get electric vehicles on the roads, European governments have actively looked for financial incentives. France and Denmark have recently invested in charging network expansions. Both countries have passed taxes on diesel vehicles, which are far more expensive than their gas powered counterparts.
China and the U.S. are the largest producers of cars and trucks. Europe, meanwhile, is dominated by local manufacturers and car companies. For them, the competition with Chinese-made vehicles is also just as international, and increasingly diplomatic. In an effort to ensure parity between European and Chinese vehicles, Brussels even set out tariffs on Chinese exports of electric vehicles, which some say were too low.
But in the longer term, China may overtake Europe in producing electric vehicles, and some of those will likely include big manufacturers from the West. In 2025, China’s government wants electric cars to make up at least a fifth of its automakers’ total sales, which currently amounts to about 500,000 cars a year.
Chinese cars have been on a tear since 2013. In 2017, vehicle sales rose 11 percent. Chinese brands will soon capture 10 percent of the European market. The larger brands like Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler have been quickly introducing electric vehicles. Mercedes has, for example, a plug-in electric hybrid SUV in development. But in light of recent trade tensions between China and the U.S., the Munich-based company is now reportedly reconsidering the gasoline car.