EV Trade War Could Spread to Luxury Cars - Kanebridge News
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EV Trade War Could Spread to Luxury Cars

Investors used to worry about an invasion of Chinese electric vehicles into Europe. Tit-for-tat tariffs would instead hit Porsches heading to China.

By STEPHEN WILMOT
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 9:42amGrey Clock 3 min

Europe’s politicians have no easy options for dealing with Chinese electric vehicles.

Slap a 100% tariff on them, as President Biden did last month , and China can easily retaliate against the more than 300,000 luxury cars it gets annually from the European Union. Let Chinese EVs into the EU with the current 10% tariff, though, and Chinese companies have an open road to take market share, given impressive technology and a roughly 30% cost advantage.

This week, the European Commission is expected to announce the results of a nine-month investigation into Chinese EV subsidies . Its most likely course of action is a cautious middle ground—a 25% to 30% tariff that would make European EVs broadly competitive with lower-cost Chinese imports. This could still trigger retaliation, but the EU’s executive body has to do something to protect an economically and strategically important industry.

This political reality only looms larger after this past weekend’s elections for the European Parliament, which rewarded right-wing populist parties in France and Germany. In the coming months a new European Commission will review the policy response to the EV investigation. Arguments for going easy on cheap Chinese EVs , because they help Europe’s climate goals, will presumably take a back seat to economic protectionism.

Just how much market share Chinese cars might take in Europe, at least in the short term, is debatable. After years of modest gains, they accounted for roughly one in 10 new EVs sold in Western Europe in the third quarter of 2023, according to Schmidt Automotive Research. But their share fell back in the final three months of the year, when France excluded China-made models from its subsidy program. High discounts on Chinese brands also point to stalling progress.

Many European consumers might not be ready for proudly Chinese brands such as BYD. The bestselling “Chinese” brand in Europe by far is MG, which is historically British but now belongs to China’s SAIC. Even it wasn’t one of April’s 10 bestselling EV models in the EU, according to data provider Jato Dynamics.

Many more Europeans would no doubt be converted to Chinese brands by the rock-bottom prices advertised domestically in China, which is in the throes of a vicious price war. But BYD launched its vehicles last year at surprisingly high prices, perhaps mindful of the EU’s investigation as well as the potential to juice its margins to compensate for a tough home market.

Still, the long-term threat posed by Chinese-made EVs in Europe is clear, and the EU won’t take any chances. One consequence of higher tariffs will be more local production. BYD is already building a factory in Hungary, while Volvo Cars will start producing its new EX30 in Belgium next year, rather than shipping it to Europe from China as it currently does. Tesla , which makes its Model 3 for Europe in its factory near Shanghai, will probably need to follow suit.

Other consequences will depend on China’s response. The China Chamber of Commerce to the EU said last month that Beijing was considering a 25% tax on imported cars with large engines. China’s current tariff on vehicle imports from the EU is 15%. This move would hit Porsche in particular as it makes about a quarter of its revenue in China and produces all its cars in Germany.

The irony is that investors previously assumed luxury cars were relatively insulated from the threat of Chinese EV imports. Last year, the market was instead worried about the competitive challenge to mass-market manufacturers such as France’s Renault . As politicians in Paris and Brussels responded, concerns shifted, contributing to a gaping divide in stock-market performance: Porsche’s stock is down 37% over one year while Renault’s is up 55%.

In the end, some kind of truce that keeps trade flowing is likely. The EU is more dependent on exports to China than the U.S., ruling out the kind of isolationism Washington is moving toward. That might be a reason to worry more about Renault again, though the French company appears to be making progress in cutting EV costs.

This points to the only sustainable European response to Chinese EVs: matching their technology and cost structure, at least as far as local differences allow. Higher tariffs can only buy a little time.



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”