Spotlight, BMW’s China venture, to assemble EVs including Mini cars for consumers worldwide

Spotlight, BMW’s China venture, to assemble EVs including Mini cars for consumers worldwide

Spotlight, BMW’s China venture, to assemble EVs including Mini cars for consumers worldwide

Spotlight Automotive, BMW’s 50-50 electric vehicle (EV) venture with mainland Chinese partner Great Wall Motor, is designing new models that it hopes to sell globally.
Cars including models under BMW-owned brand Mini will be sold in markets such as Europe and Southeast Asia after Spotlight starts assembling them in China’s eastern Jiangsu province later this year, Jason Zhang, director of governance and public relations at the EV venture, told the Post on Friday.

“Except for markets that levy unreasonably high tariffs [on Chinese-made EVs], Spotlight is designing and building cars for customers all over the world,” Zhang said on the sidelines of an investment promotion event in Shanghai. “We have the vision of building cars that cater to demand from people worldwide.”

Spotlight was founded in 2019, with BMW and Great Wall, China’s largest sport-utility vehicle maker, each contributing equally towards a total investment of 5.1 billion yuan (US$704.7 million). The company owns a factory in Jiangsu province’s Zhangjiagang city that is capable of assembling 160,000 vehicles a year, and a research and development centre in Shanghai that employs about 300 engineers.

Concerns about overcapacity have prompted mainland-based EV makers to boost their overseas sales, said Qian Kang, a Zhejiang-based entrepreneur who owns car components businesses.

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“Foreign carmakers’ Chinese ventures used to focus on just the mainland China market, because it is big enough to accommodate their production capabilities,” he said. However, “China’s strong EV supply chain and its design heft in the EV sector have inspired global marques to look beyond the local market”.

Zhang did not provide details about any new models Spotlight is developing in Shanghai, and said three models, including two battery-powered cars under the Mini brand, are expected to be produced at the Zhangjiagang plant soon.

BMW decided to relocate the production of electric Mini cars from the United Kingdom to its venture with Great Wall in 2022, as part of its efforts to help the brand raise its profile and attract young buyers. It said at that time that an electric Aceman would be one of the two Mini models to be assembled in Zhangjiagang.

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China is the world’s largest EV market. Currently, six out of every 10 new EVs worldwide are sold on the mainland.

EV makers sold 8.9 million units in China last year, a 37 per cent year-on-year increase, according to the China Passenger Car Association. But sales growth could slow to 20 per cent this year, according to a forecast by Fitch Ratings in November.

Moreover, the European Commission launched an investigation into state subsidies last September, and is expected to impose tariffs higher than the standard rate of 10 per cent on Chinese-made EVs.

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In the United States, the Biden administration is also considering curbs on imports of Chinese EVs, which Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo described as posing a risk to US citizens as they collect a “huge amount of information about a driver”.

Analyst, however, believe that any potential curbs on China’s EV exports will not prevent major players from accelerating their go-global ambitions.

UBS said in September that Seal, a fully electric sedan made by BYD, the world’s largest EV builder, has a production advantage over Tesla’s Model 3 assembled in mainland China. The cost of manufacturing the BYD car, a potential rival to the Model 3, is 15 per cent lower, the bank said in a teardown report.

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