Unlike the textile or smartphone industry, the European car still manages to escape cheap Chinese competition.

But, observers agree, this should not last: a host of brands are preparing their models for the Old Continent, as illustrated by China's strong presence at the Munich Motor Show (IAA), which is being held this week.

These newcomers combine technological lead – thanks to China's investments in electricity over the past dozen years – and low labor costs.

European governments are urging manufacturers on the continent to make electric mobility accessible in view of banning new combustion or hybrid vehicles in 2035.

A message that should be taken up by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who inaugurates the IAA on Tuesday.

Electric at 20,000 euros?

In China, the list prices of electric cars are "up to 60% lower than prices in Germany," says Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, an expert on the automotive industry.

The director general of the French Stellantis, Carlos Tavares, had evoked at the end of July an "invasion" of manufacturers who have "a cost advantage of 25%".

The best-selling Chinese brand on the Old Continent, MG offers prices around 30,000 euros excluding environmental bonuses, depending on the entry-level models.

Oliver Blume, CEO of German automotive giant Volkswagen (VW), delivers a speech at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Munich, September 4, 2023 © CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP

Founded in Britain in 1924 but revived after its bankruptcy in 2005 by the Chinese automotive giant SAIC, MG "benefits from its reputation as an old Western brand as well as the competitiveness of the Chinese market," says Felipe Munoz, JATO Dynamics.

In the first half of this year, Chinese brands captured 8% of the Western European electric market while their shares were almost zero in 2019, according to calculations by analyst Matthias Schmidt.

China's largest electric car maker, BYD, is expected to start flooding the European market from the second half of 2023, according to Schmidt. Its Atto 3 model has already risen to the top of electric car sales in July in Sweden, where more than a quarter of registrations are electric.

On the other hand, European manufacturers are doing everything to reduce their production costs and offer cheaper models.

Even Mercedes, which has refocused its strategy on luxury, promised Sunday a model intended to make electric "accessible", said Ola Kallenius, without details.

In March, the German brand VW presented the future ID.2 at less than 25,000 euros, expected in 2025. It also plans to develop a model for less than 20,000 euros, a price that few manufacturers have reached for electric.

Opel automaker CEO Florian Huettl speaks during the presentation of an "experimental Opel" car at the Munich International Motor Show (IAA) on September 4, 2023 © Christof Stache / AFP

Stellantis is betting mainly on the electric Citroën C3, which will be unveiled in mid-October, and Renault will launch the R5 city car, promised under the 30,000 euros mark. The group's Opel brand also plans to offer a model "around 25,000 euros" shortly after 2025, according to its boss Florian Huettl on Monday.

- 'Patriotism' -

"The more electric models we have, the more we will benefit from economies of scale," Volkswagen boss Oliver Blume said Sunday evening in Munich, banking on rising volumes to reduce prices.

In the meantime, amid an economic slowdown, the market share of electric cars, which are still too expensive, is expected to fall by 12% in September, according to Dudenhöffer.

In France, the government promised an offer to rent electric cars "at affordable prices", President Emmanuel Macron having mentioned the sum of 100 euros per month for this leasing, subject to means.

The France also plans to condition subsidies for electric cars on an "environmental score" that could limit Chinese imports.

In Germany, home of Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes, purchase bonuses are not seen as a sustainable solution: to push manufacturers to market more electric vehicles at affordable prices, the government has reduced the ecological bonus this year and intends to phase it out by 2025.

A situation that could weigh on the comfortable margins that European groups have released by taking advantage of inflation to raise prices.

© 2023 AFP