Tesla’s price war could reshape the Chinese auto industry, and some players may not survive

Credit: Tesla Asia/Twitter

It remains to be seen if Tesla was aware that its aggressive pricing strategy would create havoc in the Chinese auto market. But it has, and analysts have noted that some of China’s weaker players may not survive the aftermath. 

China is the world’s largest electric vehicle market. Thus, Tesla is fully aware of the country’s importance for its global operations. It was then no surprise that the electric vehicle maker implemented pricing adjustments for its domestically-made vehicles in October. This was followed up by more price cuts in January, which brought the costs of the Giga Shanghai-made Model 3 and Model Y up to 14% cheaper than last year and substantially cheaper than their counterparts from the US and Europe.

Rival automakers have lowered their prices in response to Tesla’s recent price cuts. Companies like Volkswagen AG and Mercedes-Benz Group AG are offering discounts of up to 70,000 yuan ($10,000) in China. Ford has also lowered the Mach-E’s starting price to about 209,900 yuan. This left competitors like Xpeng Inc. and Nio Inc. with little choice but to follow suit.

As noted in a Bloomberg News reports, at least 30 automakers have cut prices in China. Jochen Siebert, managing director of JSC Automotive, for his part, noted that Tesla’s pricing strategy affected the Chinese auto segment. “Tesla created havoc for the rest of the market,” Siebert said. 

The havoc caused by Tesla has not gone unnoticed. On Wednesday, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers urged an end to the price war. The CAAM noted that the price war was not a long-term solution to the country’s current slowdown in sales and inventory accumulation. The association also stressed the need for the industry to “return to normal operation” to ensure healthy development.

Other automakers are preparing for more challenging months ahead. During an interview with Bloomberg Television on Wednesday, Nio Chief Financial Officer Steven Feng noted that China’s auto industry is going through a “very profound shuffle.” “We need to go through this price war at the beginning of the year, and then we expect the industry to go through some profound fundamental consolidation. It’s almost consensus that China now has too many automakers,” the executive said. 

China’s auto sector is extremely competitive, with 155 new battery electric and plug in hybrid vehicles set to be unveiled this year alone. In response to this, financially stronger players such as Tesla could easily maintain, if not escalate, their aggressive pricing strategies to protect and grow their market share. Other automakers, however, may not be as fortunate. Siebert noted that Tesla has “several billion dollars that they can use for this purpose while others don’t.” 

Morgan Stanley analysts have noted that apart from Tesla, BYD should also be capable of carrying out another round of price cuts. The analysts stated that Tesla’s price war came on faster and more severely than expected, and they also noted that it will “expedite a market reshuffle.” Tu Le, managing director of consultancy Sino Auto Insights, highlighted this in a statement. “It’s going to stay brutal through mid-2024. It’s really existential for some of the weaker players,” the executive said. 

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Tesla’s price war could reshape the Chinese auto industry, and some players may not survive
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