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Small Cheap Chinese Electric Cars

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A Seagull electric vehicle from Chinese automaker BYD for test driving is parked outside a showroom in Beijing, Wednesday, April 10, 2024. The tiny, low-priced electric vehicle called the Seagull has American automakers and politicians trembling. The car, launched last year by Chinese automaker BYD, sells for around $12,000 in China. But it drives well and is put together with craftsmanship that rivals U.S.-made electric vehicles that cost three times as much. Tariffs on imported Chinese vehicles probably will keep the Seagull away from America’s shores for now.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Look, I want to support the American auto industry as much as anyone. I especially want to support American auto workers. Unfortunately, the American auto industry continues its endless fascination with large vehicles that I don’t want to drive. I also sort of think that saving the planet is important. So rather than an American auto maker channeling Henry Ford and creating an affordable Model T type electric that anyone can afford, what electrics the Big 3 are making are extremely expensive and increasingly are being channeled into the trucks and SUVs that add profit.

Thus, like in the 70s when this attitude toward big cars allowed Honda and Toyota and Volkswagen to come in and transform the American car market, so there is an opportunity for these cheap Chinese electrics to do the same thing. And of course rather than fill this market itself, the American auto industry is freaking out.

A tiny, low-priced electric car called the Seagull has American automakers and politicians trembling.

The car, launched last year by Chinese automaker BYD, sells for around $12,000 in China, but drives well and is put together with craftsmanship that rivals U.S. electric vehicles that cost three times as much. A shorter-range version costs under $10,000.

Tariffs on imported Chinese vehicles will keep the Seagull out of America for now, and it likely would sell for more than 12 grand if imported.

But the rapid emergence of low-priced EVs from China could shake up the global auto industry in ways not seen since Japanese makers arrived during the oil crises of the 1970s. BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams,” could be a nightmare for the U.S. auto industry.

“Any car company that’s not paying attention to them as a competitor is going to be lost when they hit their market,” said Sam Fiorani, a vice president at AutoForecast Solutions near Philadelphia. “BYD’s entry into the U.S. market isn’t an if. It’s a when.”

U.S. politicians and manufacturers already see Chinese EVs as a serious threat. The Biden administration on Tuesday is expected to announce 100% tariffs on electric vehicles imported from China, saying they pose a threat to U.S. jobs and national security.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing says in a paper that government subsidized Chinese EVs “could end up being an extinction-level event for the U.S. auto sector.”

Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Chinese EVs are so good that without trade barriers, “they will pretty much demolish most other car companies in the world.”

Outside of China, EVs are often pricey, aimed at higher-income buyers. But Chinese brands offer affordable options for the masses — just as many governments are encouraging a shift away from gasoline vehicles to fight climate change.

I mean, maybe the American auto industry should be doing this? Call me crazy here, but rather than keep the cars out, maybe make a better version of them? I recognize that Chinese labor costs are a piece of the low price, but are you telling me that there’s no way the American auto industry can’t make a basic small electric that it sells for a reasonable price like $15-18,000? C’mon, I can’t believe it. These are simply choices the industry is making to ensure those quarterly profit reports look good for the leadership.

Some of us want small electrics that don’t cost $70,000. And if you are claiming that this is some threat, what you are saying is that in fact there is a market for small cars in this nation and that the endlessly larger death machines are a profit-generating market manipulation as much as a true desire by people to drive them.

Either produce small electrics for a reasonable price or allow other countries to produce them for us.

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