During the Industrial Age, the US was the world's leader in the automotive industry, but that is no longer the case now. In 2018, 370,000 units of electric cars were sold in the US, but the sales in China were as high as 1.255 million units.
In addition to the market, China-based Tencent, despite having investments in Tesla, saw its affiliate Xiaopeng Motors Technology launch an electric car with a price/performance ratio far better than that of the US-based car maker.
Sharing a similar fate to that of the smartphone industry, the electric car industry will not be dominated by US-based makers, as China-based ones have been expanding their presence.
Xiaopeng's release of an electric car priced a lot lower than Tesla's at the end of 2018 prompted Tesla to significantly cut its price to compete. However, trying to compete against China makers in pricing where they have the most advantages is like walking a tightrope. Even if Tesla managed to win at the end, it would not be unscathed.
It is not just about the competitiveness of the two countries' automakers alone. Of the worldwide top-10 car-use battery makers, six of them are based in China. These makers are not only producing batteries locally, they also have production lines in Europe to cater to Mercedes-Benz and BMW. China-based electric car and battery makers also have entered South Korea and have been competing fiercely against local automotive and battery makers.
Since 2012, Korea-based automotive maker Hyundai has seen its operating profits slip every year. The company had profits of nearly US$8 billion in 2012, but the amount dropped to a record low at US$2.4 billion in 2018. If the car making industry does not see a new business model, second-tier automakers will all suffer.
The electric car and Internet of Vehicle (IoV) markets seem promising, and most of Japan's first-tier component makers are focusing on China as their main target. However, there are risks in the China market. In January 2019, China's car sales slumped 15.8% on year as a result of an economic downturn.
Whether China's economy is able to grow steadily will significantly affect sales in the local car market. The stronger China's spending power is, the faster it can become the leader worldwide.
(Note: This is part of a series of articles by Digitimes president Colley Hwang on the latest developments of the IT industry in the wake of the US-China trade war.)