BYD Americas CEO: U.S. becoming ‘very protective market’
4 mins read

BYD Americas CEO: U.S. becoming ‘very protective market’

BYD, the Chinese EV giant backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has global ambitions—expanding its presence in countries like Japan, Thailand, and Mexico to sell its ultra-affordable EVs worldwide. But one market is conspicuously absent: the U.S.

The U.S. EV market is in “a very confusing stage” due to slowing adoption by consumers, BYD Americas CEO Stella Li said Monday. “The EV penetration in the U.S. actually dropped” she explained.

Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in a session moderated by Fortune’s Diane Brady, Li reiterated that the Chinese EV giant does “not have plans to sell in the U.S.,” following similar comments made in February.

Washington is trying to get China out of the EV supply chain, with recent legislation denying tax credits for vehicles that use Chinese components like batteries. On Monday, Li said that geopolitics was having a “big impact” on BYD. “The U.S. is becoming a very protective market,” she said.

In March, President Joe Biden warned that Chinese cars could present a national security risk, as in-car software could collect data on the surrounding environment and transmit it back to Beijing.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump has threatened to slap an up-to-100% tariff on Chinese vehicle imports if he is elected in November. The Trump administration previously increased the tariff on Chinese car imports to 27.5%. 

On Monday, Li expressed hope that “everything will be back to normal” after U.S. elections in November, as people become “more solid, thinking about what’s the future solution here.”

“Not fair”

It’s not just Chinese carmakers that are attracting attention.

Last year, members of Congress criticized a planned joint venture between Ford and Chinese battery giant CATL in Michigan, alleging that it might lead to U.S. government money flowing to a Chinese company.

Congress is also considering legislation that would block Chinese biotech companies from working with federally funded medical providers.

Officials are also reportedly concerned over the use of Chinese cranes at U.S. ports, worrying that such machinery could send data back to China. In February, the Biden administration promised $20 billion in spending for port infrastructure, including domestic crane production. 

On Monday, Li complained that it’s “not fair” that Chinese companies are automatically seen as working hand-in-hand with the Chinese government.

The BYD executive pointed to the current debate about TikTok, owned by the Chinese tech firm ByteDance. In April, the Biden administration signed a law that orders ByteDance to sell TikTok within nine months under threat of a ban. TikTok this week sued the U.S. to block a ban, setting up a First Amendment fight.

Li questioned why TikTok demanded such scrutiny. “Even President Biden uses TikTok, so why do they need to ban [it]?”

BYD’S global expansion

BYD, which sells both battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, is by far the largest seller of “new energy vehicles” in China. The company is now targeting overseas markets in an aggressive expansion campaign. BYD is building manufacturing facilities in Hungary, Thailand, Indonesia, and Brazil

Cheap Chinese EVs from companies like BYD are now prompting a backlash. Last October, the European Union launched an anti-subsidy probe into China-made EVs, including those made by BYD. The probe could lead to tariffs on Chinese car imports.

For its part, BYD argues that its low prices are due to “management efficiency” and investments in technology.

On Monday, Li suggested that the U.S. should embrace China’s “leading” EV supply chain. “They will bring the best technology to the country,” she continued.

U.S. officials are learning they can’t freeze China out of the EV supply chain completely. Last week, the U.S. agreed to allow carmakers to use Chinese graphite, a critical battery material, and still qualify for tax credits.

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