China’s top-selling electric-car maker BYD is aiming to become India’s second-largest EV company this year, behind only homegrown car producer Tata Motors, as it rolls out more models including a battery-powered premium saloon.
An executive with the Shenzhen-based group, whose investors include Warren Buffett, said the company might also expand its Indian production base after 2025 if demand for its vehicles warranted it.
“If the technology has been accepted by consumers, then we can’t say no to the demand,” Sanjay Gopalakrishnan, BYD’s senior vice-president for India, told the Financial Times. “We have to cater to the demand, which means we have to explore this possibility of local assembly with partners.”
BYD assembles its EVs in Chennai from semi-knocked down kits (SKDs), a process carmakers typically employ to avoid high import duties.
Gopalakrishnan said BYD could begin assembling vehicles from completely knocked down kits (CKDs) in a “second phase of expansion”, based on demand, if it decided to offer more products in greater volumes.
Moving from SKDs to CKDs would bring with it more localisation of components in India.
BYD began deliveries of its ATTO 3 electric sport utility vehicle in India this week, and said it had close to 2,000 bookings.
At the Auto Expo 2023, India’s leading car show, the Chinese carmaker on Thursday unveiled the BYD Seal, a premium electric saloon that it said it planned to begin selling by October, during the Hindu festival season when car sales typically rose.
Gopalakrishnan said BYD aimed to sell 15,000 vehicles in India this year. That would put it second to Tata Motors, which expects to sell 45,000-50,000 EVs in the current fiscal year, which runs to the end of March.
BYD also sells the e6, a multipurpose vehicle targeting business customers in India.
BYD last week unveiled the first models from a new luxury brand, as it aims to take on established premium carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW at the top end of the market.
The company reported unit sales of 1.86mn last year, up 155 per cent on the previous one. BYD no longer makes conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, but produces a mix of hybrids and battery-electric cars.
India’s overall vehicle wholesales totalled 4.07mn units in January to November of last year, up 26 per cent year on year, according to LMC Automotive, the consultancy.
EVs have been slower to take off in India’s price-sensitive market than in the US or Europe, where average incomes are higher and governments have more generously subsidised early producers and buyers.
However, industry figures and analysts expect demand for EVs in India to rise in the coming years as the country expands its vehicle charging infrastructure and steps up incentives for producers of EVs, their batteries and other technology.
EV technology is one of several strategic industries New Delhi is targeting to bolster local manufacturing and avoid ceding crucial industrial sectors to Chinese imports.
“The world is looking for an alternative to China,” said Rajat Verma, founder and chief executive of Lohum, a company that recycles car batteries and extracts the raw materials for resale. “We can be that alternative.”