Powered by electric vehicle growth, China overtakes Japan as biggest auto exporter

One might start noticing more Chinese cars in Western markets in recent times. In the first half of the year, China exported 2.34 million vehicles, according to customs data. The tally surpassed that of Japan, which finished H1 with 2.02 million cars exported.

This is the first time China has overtaken Japan in automobile export at the half-year mark. The achievement has been fueled by the “explosive growth” of electric vehicle export, Cui Dongshu, the secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association, wrote in a blog.

Indeed, Chinese EV brands have been pushing aggressively overseas, venturing into not only emerging markets but also Western markets where competition is rife.

Xpeng and Nio, two young Chinese EV makers, kicked off their international expansion in Europe. BYD, the battery and hybrid vehicle-making giant, is establishing a footprint for its consumer vehicles in virtually every fast-growing market and major economy except the U.S. for now. Zeekr, the EV subsidiary under China’s biggest private automaker Geely, has announced plans for Western Europe and Central Asia, with signs to test the water in the U.S. as well.

EVs have emerged as a key area where China wishes to establish itself as a global leader, thanks largely to the country’s dominance over the long and complex battery supply chain. To that end, the government has handed out generous subsidies and policy support to grow the sector, leading to competitively priced and quality plug-in vehicles, akin to what Japanese gasoline cars are famous for.

As one EV consultant told me recently: “There are only two types of EV companies in the world: Tesla, or Chinese EV makers.”

The question, then, is whether Chinese passenger vehicles will be able to establish brand recognition away from home, especially in competitive Western markets.

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