Tesla has big ambitions for China, the world’s largest automotive market — but the brand is facing rapidly increasing competition from, among others, Chinese giant Geely which is launching an all-new brand directly targeting the U.S.-based EV maker.
Geely is nothing if not ambitious, already staking out a global presence with European-based subsidiaries Volvo and Lotus. It is also pushing into the luxury space with domestic brand Lynk & Co. Now, it is launching the all-new Zeekr which exclusively will offer EVs. That will start with a coupe-like sedan based on the “Zero Concept” that debuted as a Lynk & Co. show car last autumn.
Zeekr poses a serious challenge to Tesla considering the growing power of Geely and its ambitious Chairman Li Shufu, who has shown himself willing to throw bundles of cash at a problem. But the Hangzhou-based Geely is but one of the challengers giving Tesla a squeeze. Dozens of domestic Chinese companies are focusing on the EV space. So are foreign rivals like General Motors.
In fact, GM and its Chinese partners SAIC and Wuling currently dominate the huge Asian nation’s battery-car market. They sold 56,000 of the new Hong Gua Mini microvans during the first two months of this year. That makes it the best-selling battery-electric vehicle in the world.
First deliveries due by autumn
Geely plans to deliver the first Zeekr models by the third quarter of this year. They’re expected to target the premium segment of the market.
Demand for battery-based vehicles has grown rapidly in China in recent years. That’s partially due to the Beijing government’s New Energy Vehicle, or NEV, program which takes a carrot-and-stick approach to promoting the sale of plug-based models. A year ago, regulators upped their target for plug-in hybrids and pure BEVs to 20% of total Chinese sales by 2025. They are considering an outright ban on vehicles using internal combustion engines that could go into effect sometime after 2030.
Like its key domestic and foreign competitors, Geely also is betting on growing consumer acceptance for the technology.
Geely has big plans for BEVs
Based in Szechuan Province, the company already has made aggressive moves into the electric vehicle market. It launched the Polestar brand, a Volvo spinoff, in 2018, with a low-volume plug-in hybrid. Going forward, all Polestar products will go BEV. Volvo itself has been migrating to a mix of plug-based offerings and early this month announced a shift in strategy. All of its products will be plug-based by 2025, with a target of switching exclusively to BEVs by 2030.
Geely’s British subsidiary, Lotus, is also adding electric offerings, starting with the upcoming Evija supercar. And its London EV Co. supplies plug-in hybrid versions of the classic black London cab.
Back home, Geely and Lynk & Co. are also adding battery-based models to their mix.
Lots of new players coming
Zeekr will retain a significant degree of independence from the parent company. It is being set up as a subsidiary of a new Geely holding company, Lingling Technologies — which itself will be based in Hefei, 650 miles to the east of Guangzhou.
Geely’s push into electrification is far from unique in China. A growing number of startups want to target the country’s booming EV market, and established brands are adding more plug models, seemingly every month. Dongfeng Motor, the Chinese affiliate of both Nissan and Stellantis, is preparing to launch its own all-electric brand, Voyah, this summer.
One thing they all have in common is a desire to topple Tesla. The U.S. company is itself generating significant growth since opening its first foreign plant in Shanghai in December 2019. The question is whether the Chinese EV market will grow fast enough to deliver on the ambitious plans of all the new entries.