Chinese electric vehicle pioneer backs European investment amid trade tensions

Chinese electric vehicle pioneer backs European investment amid trade tensions

Wan Gang, the visionary behind the surge in electric vehicles in China, sees European collaboration as a promising way forward.

HEFEI, China — Wan Gang, widely recognized as the architect of China’s electric vehicle (EV) strategy, suggested Wednesday that Chinese investment in Europe’s electric vehicle industry could benefit both regions amid ongoing trade disputes .

“I believe the governments of China and the European Union are now considering how, through negotiations, to combine investment with commodity trading,” said Wan Gang, currently president of the China Association for Science and Technology. Wan made the statements via an official English translation during a panel at the World Economic Forum’s “Summer Davos” meeting in Dalian, China. Representatives from China’s Foreign Ministry and the European Commission were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

This weekend, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced it would start consultations with the EU over the bloc’s investigation into subsidies for Chinese electric cars. Earlier this month, the EU said it would increase tariffs on vehicle imports from China.

“Even if we don’t export a lot of electric vehicles, maybe Chinese companies could try to invest in Europe,” Wan suggested, noting that such investments could generate local employment opportunities.

Wan, who became China’s science and technology minister around 2007, is known for leading the country’s pioneering efforts in electric vehicles. Reflecting on his background, he noted that when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, he had already spent about 15 years working in Germany, including a stint at Audi, and had experienced several periods of price volatility of oil.

He recalled that in 2001, the Chinese government had set a goal of developing a “moderately prosperous society,” which required every family to own a car. However, Wan predicted that an increase in fuel-powered vehicles would strain Beijing’s ability to maintain a stable gas supply and exacerbate pollution.

Wan stressed that China’s development of an electric car strategy was driven by a focus on national survival rather than competition. This year, the United States also raised tariffs on Chinese imports of electric cars, criticizing Beijing’s policies for disproportionately favoring domestic companies over foreign competitors.

Wan said China asked him to return from Germany more than 20 years ago to start research on electric cars. Around 2010, severe air pollution in Chinese cities accelerated efforts to adopt electric vehicles, starting with buses and taxis.

Today, new-energy vehicles, including battery-powered and hybrid cars, account for more than a third of new-car sales in China, according to data from the local passenger association. However, Wan stressed that more needs to be done to ease drivers’ range anxiety, by improving vehicle technology to automatically find charging stations and improving road safety with driver-assistance features.

Wan concluded by stating that the development of electric cars is an “irreversible trend” globally and underlined the need for continued commitment to progress despite the challenges.