Today, about 170 different car brands are teeming in China. Supply is as large as demand in a market where only 17.5 new vehicles have been sold for every thousand inhabitants.
Despite its size, China is still small compared to the new vehicles/population ratio of its peers in the West, where the United States is among the leaders at 40.6 and Western Europe is at 24.4. Production is huge, but not all of it has global potential. That said, here are the five brands that I believe can easily establish themselves abroad.
It is already the most global car brand, even if it is not officially Chinese. MG is a brand of British origin that has been in the automotive industry for almost 100 years, but under Chinese control since 2006. SAIC is the current owner and is responsible for its rapid expansion. In fact, MG sales jumped from 3,500 units in 2013 to around 450,000 units last year.
In 2022, it was the most popular "domestic" brand outside of China. Its potential is based on the ability to produce attractive and highly competitive electric cars for the masses of developed and developing economies. MG was the fourth best-selling BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) brand in Europe in the first half of 2023, well ahead of other big mainstream brands such as Renault, Peugeot, or Hyundai.
BYD is still small in Europe, but has gained traction in other regions. It is one of the fastest-growing brands in the world, thanks to its wide range of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars.
Its positioning is somewhere between the mainstream and the premium segment, so it can make inroads into regions such as Latin America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, where not everyone can afford a premium electrified car. BYD has debuted six production models since January 2022.
It is probably the most western of the Chinese brands. Thanks to strong ties with other Western manufacturers that are part of the Geely Group, this brand has access to competitive platforms and technologies that comply with European and North American standards.
Geely cars in the mainstream segments and Zeekr in the high-end segments can benefit from a wide range of sedans and SUVs that are already selling well in countries such as Russia (fourth best-selling passenger car brand through the first half of 2023) and are designing great things in many other markets.
Were it not for Tesla and the German premium brands, NIO could easily be a major automotive player nowadays. However, it continues to struggle against these rivals and has become the "Chinese Tesla" with a wider range of products than the American company.
Its potential lies in the technology (battery performance), software capabilities, and battery replacement schedule. However, as a premium brand, it does not have a global reach and still needs time and awareness to capture a relevant part of the European market.
Baojun/Wuling via Chevrolet
This company is positioned as a competitive low-cost Chinese auto brand. They are like the Dachas of China's offering, thanks to their no-frills products that are still attractive and cheap to buy and maintain.
The formula is simple: Cars are rebadged using the more global branding of its partner, Chevrolet. In this way, it can easily and more quickly capture market share in regions such as Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.
However, despite the potential, these brands face the biggest challenge: the bad reputation of Chinese products in the West. And this will require not only money, but also a lot of time to rectify.