BYD leads NEVs; Geely ‘gets smart' with Daimler

China is by far the world’s largest car market and shaping up to be a growth pole for electric vehicles. BYD leads the electrified vehicle market in China, but local competitor Geely has struck a JV deal with Daimler that could reinforce China’s global position as centre stage for electric vehicle manufacturing.


BYD says it is present in more than 200 cities in 50 countries and regions and was the number one seller of new energy vehicles in the world between 2015 and 2017.

Although BYD only just scrapes into the top 20 makes list of the Chinese market but it remains the number one in New Energy passenger vehicles (NEVs − EVs and Plug-in Hybrids). The brand offers a broad line-up of EVs and PHEVs and with more to be added this year, may remain in the lead even as rivals add ever more electrified models.

Even though it is possible to find success in China with imported NE models, as Toyota's experience with the Lexus ES 300h shows, as well as to a far smaller extent, with the CT 200h and three Tesla models, one of BYD's largest advantages is its extensive line-up of vehicles. The Chinese make's models not only accounted for three of the top four New Energy best sellers in Q1 this year − Yuan (24,155), BAIC EU Series (19,343), e5 (18,332) and Tang (14,975) − but the Qin, Pro and Song's success mean BYD had six models in the top 50, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

Existing BYD models

The Qin (pronounced 'chin'), a small hybrid sedan, went on sale in China in November 2013. Power is claimed to be a combined 303hp thanks to a 1.5l turbo engine and one electric motor. BYD will likely phase out this model in 2020, its effective replacement being the larger Pro.

The Qin Pro is a 4,765mm long sedan which had its global debut at the Beijing motor show in April 2018. It supplemented rather than replaced the Qin, sales commencing last September.

Buyers in the Chinese market have a choice of piston power, piston power with electric assistance (PHEV) or full electric. These are: 109hp 1.5l petrol, 154hp 1.5l petrol turbo, 285hp combined from a 1.5l petrol turbo engine and a 150ps motor, and 163hp electric (with a claimed range of up to 500km).

There should be facelifts for all versions in 2022 and a follow up model in 2025 or 2026. BYD may have phased out the petrol engined variants by then too.

The Song Max is a 4.7m long seven-seat minivan which went on sale in China in September 2017. Not to be confused with the smaller Song, which is a crossover. The Max is due for a facelift in 2021 and to be replaced in 2024.

The Tang is one of BYD's newer models, the second generation having made its world debut at the Beijing motor show in April 2018. As with the first model, which was only around for three years, the Tang is a large-ish (4,870mm long) SUV with a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain. However, one major difference is the availability of an EV version which was added last month. One novelty is a touchscreen in the style of the Tesla Model 3's but the Tang goes one better − it can be swivelled into portrait or landscape form. Facelifts for the Tang PHEV and Tang EV should be released onto the Chinese market in 2021 and replacements in 2023 or 2024.

The Yuan is a 4,360mm long crossover which offers a wide range of powertrains. It went on sale in China in April 2016. There are 1.5- and turbo 1.5l four-cylinder petrol engines as well as a PHEV and EV powertrains. The fully electric Yuan EV360 was added in May last year then, only last month came an additional variant, the EV535. The three digits refer to the claimed range in kilometres. Successors for most variants should begin to be introduced from 2023.

Future models

The e1 is to be joined by a larger EV which will be called e2. Few details, other than the name and the fact that it will be a crossover, are known at this stage. The s2 could well be the same basic model but with piston rather than battery power.

A follow-up to the e6, BYD's once moderately successful electric crossover, is expected to be launched in China later in 2019. Production of the original, which found favour as a taxi in many cities worldwide, ended in late 2018.

Another future model is the just-revealed Song Pro. Formerly known by its SA2 project code, this is a large, five-seat SUV which is based on the BNA architecture. The Dynasty concept at Auto Shanghai 2017 had been a preview with the production model currently on display at the 2019 edition of this biennial motor show. Build is due to commence soon. The life cycle should be seven years which means a facelift in the final quarter of 2022.

Is BYD also planning to enter the market for electric supercars? Stranger things have happened, so this rumour shouldn't be quashed just yet. The e-SEED GT, a bright red electric design study with a retractable steering wheel and butterfly wing doors, was shown at Auto Shanghai. The company has refused to be drawn on whether or not it sees a production future for such a model.

Geely and Daimler get Smart together

Daimler has struck a deal with Geely for a 50:50 joint venture based in China to develop and operate the Smart brand globally as an all-electric carmaker.

From 2022 onwards all Smart models for global markets will be produced in China. Until then, the Smart Hambach plant in France will continue to make Smart cars; after that date it is repurposed to make a compact electric car for the Mercedes EQ brand.

The joint venture partners have agreed that the new generation of Smart vehicles will be styled by the worldwide Mercedes-Benz Design network with engineering from Geely global engineering centres.

As part of the vehicle-development program, the Smart product portfolio is also planned to be extended into the fast-growing B-segment. In parallel, the Smart Hambach plant in France will assume an additional new role in the Mercedes-Benz Cars production network and will produce a compact electric vehicle by Mercedes-Benz under the new product and technology brand EQ in the future. Mercedes-Benz is investing EUR€500m at the Hambach plant, with the current workforce retained.

This deal makes a lot of sense for both carmakers, yielding benefits to both as electrification gathers pace in the global auto industry. China's circa 30m unit annual market is shaping up to be at the epi-centre of this transformation over the next decade.

For Daimler, it reinvents the Smart brand – a brand that has had limited success as an urban small car niche player – as an all-electric specialist. Moreover, it shifts the manufacturing base for the brand to China from 2022. That in itself would be a good move given the importance of the Chinese market for future sales of EVs, but it has also selected a well-established local partner for the venture, something that will be essential in securing a good manufacturing base and supply chain.


China has more electric vehicles than all the other countries in the world combined. Geely strongly contributes to this, because this company is driving the electrification of its international model range with the same determination.

In his blog, Dieter Zetsche neatly summed up the attraction of Geely for Daimler: "Now it is only logical that the electric future of smart is also emerging in China. After all, China has more electric vehicles than all the other countries in the world combined. Geely strongly contributes to this, because this company is driving the electrification of its international model range with the same determination."

And he also noted the potentially huge future connected services revenue streams facilitated by 5G cell networks: "Today, connectivity at 5G speed opens up a whole universe of opportunities. Together with Geely, we are therefore investing not only money but also talent and experience of both of our companies to use all this potential for our Smart customers around the world."

Back in Europe, Mercedes also has the opportunity to repurpose the current Smart Hambach plant and dedicate it to the emerging Mercedes EQ electric sub-brand – which is about larger and more premium electrified vehicles than Smart.

Geely gets the benefits of working closely with a German premium maker in the venture – both in joint design and development of future electric Smart models themselves and in the delivery of new mobility services to future customers via the Smart brand. This latest venture deepens the cooperation between the two – there is also a JV agreement to provide ride-hail mobility services in Chinese cities.