American Policy Won’t Get Us to Mass EV Adoption. Chinese Cars Will

Chinese automaker BYD is maturing at a blistering pace, and could overshadow every legacy automaker. That has a better chance of juicing EV adoption than any tax incentive.

byAndrew P. Collins|
A BYD Seal being driven by the drift king Keiichi Tsuchiya.
A BYD Seal being driven by the drift king Keiichi Tsuchiya. BYD


BYD ("Build Your Dreams") is a colossal Chinese company that sells, among other things, electric cars. It's been around for a long time, but more recently has been ripening from building cheapo-micro vehicles to offering solid performers at incredibly aggressive prices. You'll be hearing a lot more about this company in the coming years.

This week, automotive industry analyst Michael Dunne published an insightful article called "Why Everyone Except Tesla Should Be Terrified Of BYD."

Dunne approached the subject from a business perspective, so of course, the "everyone" in his headline refers to rival companies. He explains that other automakers better hustle if they want to compete with BYD, citing the rapidly melting market for foreign cars in China. This nugget hits hard:

"China's market, the world's largest, no longer needs or wants foreign makers. Jeep, Suzuki and Mitsubishi are already gone. VW, Ford, Hyundai, Nissan, and others will depart within five years. GM, once the poster-child for successful US business in China, will likely be gone, too. (GM sales in China are already down by more than 50% from their 2017 peak)."

Dunne signs off with his take on how other automakers could still clinch victory: "... superior software that delivers an exceptional customer experience." Which, yeah, historically people have been willing to pay more money for nicer cars. But when it comes to mass adoption? If BYD can offer a reasonably competitive product that majorly undercuts the established automakers we know and love, that's going to change the look of our automotive infrastructure in more ways than one.

I'm convinced that we're never going to see a true and complete ban on gas and diesel-burning cars in the United States. Deadlines for the end of internal combustion sales will keep getting kicked down the road while our government leadership flip-flops between extremes as our empire crumbles and the impact of policy weakens.

But if you could buy a brand-new car here for $11,400 (the approximate list price for a BYD Seagull in China), I think many people would figure out a way to live with the fact that it's electric. Then all of a sudden there will be a lot of EVs on the road, and what do you know, the incentive to provide charging is organic (sort of). Then and only then will gas guzzlers slink into the corners of culture. There'd be some great irony there in communist China winning capitalism in car sales.

So, would legions of inexpensive EVs running around be good news? I'm inclined to think ... no, not really. That's even ignoring the fact that super-cheap cars are probably not super safe. Turning every cheap compact crossover into an EV might let us celebrate a brief reprieve from tailpipe emissions, but we'd soon be buried in carcasses of electric cars that are cheaper to replace than repair. And not to pull my tinfoil hat down too tight, but, between driving a BYD and using TikTok, corporations from China will have access to basically every ounce of your life and most assuredly weaponize it to make money off of you.

Actually, if you want to see the real depth of my cynicism, I think we're only a couple of generations away from a dystopian mashup of Mad Max and Blade Runner with all of the misery and none of the cool vehicles. But hopefully, I'm wrong about that.

As for BYD's impending rise, I think Mr. Dunne is absolutely right. "Build Your Dreams" may be a silly name but this is a company everyone who cares about cars and transportation should take very seriously.

Meanwhile, here's a cool clip of Keiichi Tsuchiya and Nanami Tsukamoto going hog wild in a new BYD Seal:

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