Chinese brands are starting to offer their top-of-the-line electric SUVs in Norway. Norwegians are buying.
A BYD Tang EV in China. Photo: Jengtingchen
In Australia, deliveries of the BYD Atto 3 (a relatively small electric crossover) are delayed till October — even though at least one local journalist already got to test drive one.
Australia has recently become much like Europe when it comes to electric cars — demand outstrips supply. And now it looks like the Chinese automaker BYD won’t be bringing its reasonably priced (by Australian standards) crossover to the market this summer.
That’s in Australia; in Norway, the Chinese manufacturer marked its entry last year, by offering a large SUV with a power output of over 500 hp.
And, interestingly, it’s not even the most outlandish Chinese SUV sold in Norway.
BYD is one of two companies — the other one being Tesla — that pioneered modern long-range electric cars: Tesla with the Model S, BYD with the E6.
But, so far, BYD has been focused on China — its home market, and the world’s largest car market. Nothing spectacular came out of the plans of BYD expanding into the West, at least until 2021.
The BYD E6 — which got some attention when it was shown at the 2009 North American Auto Show — made its way into Europe, Australia and North America, but in very limited numbers, and mostly as taxis. With its 60-something-kWh battery (and that was in the beginning, before the battery capacity was increased) and without real competition, except for Tesla, it theoretically should have been a hit…
BYD was putting pressure on Western automakers by staying ahead of them in the EV race — both on the front of all-electric vehicles (the BYD E6 went on sale earlier than the Tesla Model S) and on the front of PHEVs (the BYD F3DM appeared before the Chevrolet Volt). But the Chinese automaker did not try to flood Western markets directly.
And that situation did not change even when BYD’s cars stopped looking like facelifted clones/mashups of older Japanese cars (which they initially were), and developed their own style.
BYD versus BMW
In 2021, deliveries of the BYD Tang EV finally started in Norway. It went on sale at a price appropriate for Norway (so, much higher than in China); the cockpit was revamped to give it a more premium look.
A large all-electric SUV with a power output of over 500 hp and a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of under 5 seconds — sounds good. But perhaps more importantly, the Tang offered three-row seating — something that wasn’t available on the Audi e-Tron, for example; it made the Chinese SUV stand out as a large-family-friendly option.
(Sure, there were electric passenger vans with three-row seating — the Mercedes-Benz EQV, and the Peugeot e-Traveller and its siblings. But some customers prefer SUVs over vans.)
By the way, the Tang is equipped with BYD’s much-touted “Blade Battery” (using LFP chemistry), whose most important feature is safety: it’s not supposed to catch fire even in case of damage. So, it was quite unfortunate when a Tang caught fire at an auto repair shop in Norway.
The continuing parts shortages (including semiconductor shortages) affecting other manufacturers should have worked in BYD’s favor. Unlike the competitors, the Chinese SUV could be bought without waiting. Although that situation continued for months — long wait times for other brands, zero wait times for the BYD Tang — without any huge increase in the Tang’s sales figures.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the BYD Tang flopped in Norway. A bit less than 1100 vehicles were sold in 2021. And about 900 during the first half of 2022 (so, on average, 150 units per month).
The MG ZS EV, the MG Marvel R, and the NIO ES8 (all those are Chinese vehicles, and only the MG ZS EV — specifically, the previous generation of it — has been around in Europe for a longer time) did not achieve better results: a few hundred units each, and that’s spread over the entire first half of 2022. So, roughly 100 units per month, separately for each model.
Chinese electric SUVs are definitely making inroads in Norway — even if not very quickly.
As mentioned earlier, the Tang had the advantage of three-row seating (the Tesla Model Y also offers three-row seating — but there is not enough space for adult passengers’ heads in the third row). But then came the European automakers’ countermove: the BMW iX.
Saving the honor of the West, BMW started sending huge numbers of the iX — which happens to be a large three-row electric SUV — into Norway. Not only did it outsell the BYD Tang, it also became one of the most popular EVs in the Norwegian market overall. There are two battery sizes, 71 kWh and 105 kWh (that’s the usable capacity, not the gross capacity). I guess the smaller one is a more direct competitor to the Tang, even though it falls short of the BYD’s 86.4 kilowatt-hours of battery capacity. The wait times for the smaller-battery variant are actually tolerable (for the larger one, not so much).
And while the most basic variant of the BMW is still more expensive than the BYD, the gap in the price is actually not that big (about NOK 660,000 vs. about NOK 620,000).
Compared to the iX, the Chinese SUV has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to power output or acceleration times. But what about the range?
The Norwegian Automobile Federation (here and here; you need to click “vis flere” — “see more” — in the second link a few times to load the full list) provides some useful information. According to their test data, the BYD Tang achieves 408 km (254 miles) in the summer and 356 km (221 miles) in the winter.
The smaller-battery variant of the BMW iX achieves 399 km (248 miles) in the summer and 309 km (192 miles) in the winter.
Although the Tang wins, I would say both of these vehicles disappoint a bit. If anyone is interested, the larger-battery variant of the BMW iX achieves some 569 km (354 miles) in the summer and 503 km (313 miles) in the winter — now that’s a long-range EV.
There is something weird about the Tang’s charging curve. It does not resemble a typical Li-ion charging curve, fast at the beginning and gradually slowing down until the end.
It is more flat, but not exactly flat: it mostly stays somewhere in the area between 75 kW and 120 kW, until… well, in the tests done by the Norwegian Automobile Federation, it was at least until the state-of-charge reached 80%.
In these tests, the Tang showed surprising consistency, charging from 5% to 80% is about 45 minutes in the summer, and in about 45 minutes in the winter. Other EVs practically never behave this way (charging in the summer is usually faster that in the winter). But in this case, the weaknesses of the winter charging curve (slow charging at the beginning — battery too cold) and of the summer charging curve (slower charging at the end — battery too warm) apparently canceled each other out, resulting in almost identical charging times.
Independently, the Norwegian online publication Motor.no measured the charging time from 10% to 80%, and reported that it took about 45 minutes.
And the showdown between BMW and BYD just got even more interesting: apparently the updated, 2022 model year BYD Tang (which means the model introduced in the middle of 2022) is going to be equipped with a 108.8-kWh battery — rivaling the larger of the two battery variants of the BMW.
Hongqi enters the stage
If someone considers the BMW iX too big or ostentatious, or its styling too controversial, they probably won’t like the Hongqi E-HS9 either.
The luxury Chinese SUV from the state-owned FAW Group (BYD, on the other hand, is an independent private company) looks like an attempt to outdo everything else on the market — including the BMW iX.
And it’s proving reasonably popular in Norway: over 950 units were sold during the first half of the year.
Hongqi E-HS9. Photo: Hongqi