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Renault leads Europe's EV defence in Geneva as Chinese rivals expand

Published 02/26/2024, 06:56 AM
Updated 02/26/2024, 11:56 PM
© Reuters. The new Renault 5 E-Tech electric car is unveiled during a pre Geneva show event in Aubervilliers, near Paris, France, February 12, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Gilles Guillaume and Nick Carey

GENEVA (Reuters) -Renault and China-owned MG launched new electrified cars in Europe at the Geneva car show on Monday as Chinese automakers seek to take more market share from legacy European rivals.

Europe's auto industry is scrambling to cut costs and roll out more affordable, well-reviewed electric vehicles (EVs) to counter the arrival of cheaper Chinese models.

The strong presence of Chinese competitors at the show, which returns this week after a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows "they are interested in our market, in our customers," Renault (EPA:RENA) CEO Luca de Meo told Reuters.

Speaking to media later, after unveiling Renault's highly-anticipated new electric R5, he insisted Europe's auto industry was "up for the challenge".

De Meo repeated calls to replicate the success of European airplane maker Airbus for the car industry, by fostering deeper cooperation between automakers.

Renault itself is in early talks with Volkswagen (ETR:VOWG_p) to share its Twingo electric platform with the German company, he said.

The French automaker's CEO also said he was pushing for European Union regulation to be more flexible for small cars to help make them more competitive.

In a sign of weakening interest from legacy automakers for most car shows, there were fewer exhibitors than before COVID, with stands in just one hall, rather than in several at the last show in 2019. U.S. EV pioneer Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) does not have a stand.

The R5 is central to Renault's efforts to build affordable EVs. Rival Stellantis (NYSE:STLA) will roll out its electric Citroen e-C3 this year, which starts at 23,300 euros ($25,275).

Also on Monday, SAIC's MG brand announced the European launch of its MG3 hybrid, which is already sold in Britain.

According to French auto consultancy Inovev, with sales of 230,000 cars last year MG sold two out of three Chinese-made cars in Europe.

Inovev estimates that, including Russia and Turkey, Chinese automakers should sell more than one million vehicles across Europe in 2024.

China's state-owned SAIC also said its EV brand IM Motor would launch its L6 luxury electric SUV in Europe next year. IM Motors is also backed by Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) Group investments.

China's BYD (SZ:002594), which outsold Tesla globally in the fourth quarter, lost out to Renault's Scenic in the "car of the year" award at the exhibition.

"This is another symbol we are back in the game," Gilles Le Borgne, Renault's head of engineering, told a media event.

But the fact the BYD Seal electric sedan was in the running for the award shows just how far China's automakers have come in their quest to break into the European market.

Like many other Chinese models, the Seal has earned a five-star Euro NCAP (new car assessment programme) rating, a far cry from the crash test failures in 2006 and 2007 that marred their early attempts to crack Europe's competitive market.

LEGACY RUSH

In response to the influx of lower-cost Chinese models, legacy automakers like Renault are rushing to develop EVs for 25,000 euros or less.

Its new R5 copies design elements from the combustion engine R5 and the brand's iconic Super 5, such as vertical tail-lights and bright colours. The two models sold more than nine million cars between 1972 and 1996. The first version of the R5 will launch in the second half of the year with a 52 kilowatt hour (KWh) battery with a range of 400 km (249 miles) and a price tag of around 30,000 euros.

So far, Chinese automakers have focused on larger, more upmarket models. But they are expected to come with smaller cars for 25,000 euros or less.

© Reuters. The new Renault 5 E-Tech electric car is unveiled during a pre Geneva show event in Aubervilliers, near Paris, France, February 12, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Renault has said the first R5 version will be followed "as quickly as possible" by a cheaper, less-powerful version of the same model - 40 KWh with 300 km of range - for 25,000 euros.

($1 = 0.9228 euros)

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