The competition between US and Chinese electric vehicle companies

President Joe Biden is ramping up the trade war with China by keeping the tariffs serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) placed on some Chinese products and adding new ones or increasing them. In particular he is expected to placed tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles (EVs).

The Biden administration is getting ready to announce new tariffs on imports of goods from China — products like electric vehicles deemed to be policy priorities.

The announcement, which could come as early as next week, was confirmed by a source familiar with the tariff deliberations, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement of the decision.

The administration has been reviewing tariffs on Chinese goods since President Biden took office – steep duties on about $370 billion of imports from China each year, put in place by former President Donald Trump as one of his signature policy moves.

The Biden administration has decided to keep those Trump tariffs in place — and in addition, add a range of strategic items to the list. The decision was first reported by Bloomberg.

I was puzzled by the decision to place tariffs on Chinese EVs since I have not seen a single one on US roads. All the EVs have been American, with Tesla being the most prominent. Surely the Chinese EVs could not be a threat to the US EV companies? But Kevin Williams recently visited a Chinese EV trade show and was stunned by the variety and quality of the Chinese cars that were on display. It is a long article that goes into great detail about the various cars that he saw and test drove. But his conclusion is stark.

I’ve personally been privy to conversations with auto industry insiders, engineers and pundits alike. Many of them believe China’s industries are not sustainable, and the cars it wants to foist on the public are cut-rate spyware machines designed to murder American citizens whenever the Chinese Communist Party flips the kill switch. 

To these critics, if China had a truly open market, Chinese buyers would continue to purchase Western cars en masse, and sales of their models wouldn’t be falling off so dramatically. 

It would be naive to assume that China doesn’t have its finger on the scale for EV production. But believing that the success of China’s electrified vehicle industry is all the sole result of a brutish government forcing its citizens to buy its domestic products rings false in an almost childlike, sour-grapes way. 

I spent a week in China for the Beijing Auto Show, the country’s biggest car industry event. As a guest of the Geely Group along with a few other international journalists, I drove more than a dozen vehicles, sat in many more, and had a lot of important conversations. The real story is far more nuanced than a simplistic “Us vs. Them”; a story of a China that has fraudulently over-invested in electric cars and is desperately seeking a space to dump their inferior products.

That narrative is false. Western automakers are cooked. And a lot of this is probably their damn fault. 

If the U.S. and Europe get what they want—a crackdown on Chinese imports—it doesn’t feel like it would result in better cars. It feels like it would keep buyers of those markets locked to cars that aren’t executed as well. It’s nakedly protectionist because deep down, all of the Western auto executives and some hawkish China pundits understand that Chinese EV and PHEV models are more compelling than what European, other Asian, and American brands have come up with.

I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. We’re cooked.

It reminds of the days back in the 1960s or so when US car manufacturers sneered at the low quality of Japanese imports and felt that they were no threat. And those early Japanese cars were pretty lousy and American cars sold much better because they were less lousy even though they were big gas guzzlers. But the Japanese cars started improving in quality and reliability and fuel efficiency very rapidly while American cars stagnated. It looks like the same thing is happening now in the EV market. Tariffs might protect US car makers from Chinese competition in the domestic market but in the global market they will have to compete on quality and price. And, if Williams is correct, they are going to lose on both fronts.

Meanwhile, Lewis Black is not a fan of the Tesla Cybertruck or Elon Musk.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Chinese EV and PHEV models are more compelling than what European, other Asian, and American brands have come up with.

    At least we can hope the Asian and maybe a few of the European companies will try to catch up.

  2. kenny256 says

    Remember when Elon opened up his patent wall for free (All your base are belong to us)--so who do you think took him at his word and made use? It sure wasn’t any of the domestic car makers. They are so far behind the curve of even understanding what it takes to make a safe and functional EV. At least 10 years behind and losing more as time passes.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Tariffs might protest US car makers from Chinese competition in the domestic market but in the global market they will have to compete on quality and price. And, if Williams is correct, they are going to lose on both fronts.

    tldr; The US can’t make cars, and they’ve already lost to the Japanese. They’re deluding themselves if they think China are coming for them -- China are coming for the Japanese and the Koreans, not the Americans.

    The US can make pickup trucks, and they do, in fairness, make the most popular pickup trucks in the world -- the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado. But in no civilised country are these gas-guzzling monstrous work vehicles considered “cars” any more than would be a transit van or a bus or an articulated lorry. It’s hard to find a chart that just shows cars and not pickups, though -- wonder why? (In my life I’ve known precisely two people who’ve ever owned a pickup truck, for context. I’d certainly never consider one.)

    I just googled “best selling cars” and got an Auto Express chart from 2019. Two things are striking:
    1. the only entry in the top ten from the US is a pickup truck -- the Ford F-150.
    2. EVERY SINGLE OTHER VEHICLE in the top ten that year was a car, and specifically, a Japanese car.

    The US appears mostly uninterested in producing “cars” as the majority of the world understands or wants them.

    I did get the latest chart, for 2023, and there IS an American car there. Top spot, in fact -- a Tesla Model Y. Four of the rest were pickups -- three of them American. Almost all the rest were Japanese, with one Hyundai in there, the Tucson, an SUV.

    Tariffs will work to make US automakers complacent. Sorry, MORE complacent. And it will make the lives of US citizens worse, which seems to be the job of the US government, so OK.

    As for China’s industry being “unsustainable” -- where are all the rare earth metals for the batteries to power these EVs being mined again? Oh yeah -- quite a lot of in China. What’s “unsustainable” is the US’s pretension to economic relevance globally in thirty or forty years’ time. Interesting times.

  4. outis says

    Yep, that’s how it looks like. Euro car companies had years to catch up, and all they did was block, ask for exemptions and delays while doing jack. And most of all, whining like so many piglets about how unfair it was, having to change tech from the usual gas-burning wagons.
    Now they are whining even louder, but for real, as their position is starting to look precarious indeed. Also, compounding their idocy by flooding the market with bigger, larger and SUV-er petrol cars which is exactly what is not needed at the moment: smaller models are getting harder and harder to find, and the larger ones are growing to positively Gargantuan sizes.
    Bunch of crap-for-brains.
    My sympathy for them is very hard to find, ever at high magnification.

  5. John Morales says

    China is having real economic issues with overproduction; EVs are part of that.

  6. jrkrideau says

    I was puzzled by the decision to place tariffs on Chinese EVs since I have not seen a single one on US roads.

    My impression is that the USA is doing its damnedest to keep them out of the US market. I tried googling “BYD EV cars USA” and got a lovely website but no hint that one could actually buy a BYD car in the USA; googling “BYD EV cars Canada” brings up a product list. 2024 New BYD Electric Car Price In Canada . Without punitive tariffs, some of the less expensive models might be very attractive to buyers.

    As I do not pay much attention to automobiles, I don’t know if I have ever seen a Chinese EV in Canada.

  7. badland says

    sonofrojblake @ 3

    “Sustainable” isn’t really a thing when it comes to the Chinese government and strategic elements. Rare earths are mined at Bayan Obo at concentrations I find untenable, they’re so low they could never be economically feasible without massive State support. Also their extraction techniques (including massive and barely-constrained in situ acid washing) would emphatically not pass environmental muster in most jurisdictions.

    The same for their Namibian uranium mine at Husab. The billions which had to be spent to get this decidedly low-grade deposit up and running are realistically beyond the reach of any public company.

    No real point to this, just pointing out that similarly to tariffs, ‘sustainable’ ceases to be a thing when State intervention comes into play.

  8. Dunc says

    “Sustainable” isn’t really a thing when it comes to cars, full stop. Doesn’t matter who’s making them, or how. There are only differing degrees of unsustainability.

  9. badland says

    I need to say, to the best of my knowledge Husab is being mined according to very high environmental standards. No complaints at all there.

  10. Denise Loving says

    I took a quick look at the BYD Canada website, and noticed that the two vehicles mentioned at the top have top speeds of 100 kph and 105 kph. I wouldn’t drive those on the freeway.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    @11 -- as I’ve said: EVs are simply not fit for purpose, except as very short range city cars. And they are great for that, but the lie that they are more than that is pernicious and government approved.

  12. Silentbob says

    @ 3 sonofrojblake

    What’s “unsustainable” is the US’s pretension to economic relevance globally in thirty or forty years” time.

    Sure, Jan.

    @ 14 Morales

    I’ll reply to you since sonofroj doesn’t read us anyway. X-D

    Where we live 100 kph is almost always the maximum legal speed anyway. And Qld is a big state. Very bigly. Bigger’n Texas y’all.

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