The electrification race between the West and Asia is a never-ending story. Many car manufacturers are trying to play an important role in order to excel in the years to come, when a large proportion of the world's population is expected to drive emission-free cars. China is setting the pace for global mobility, which will become purely electric. The West is watching and trying to catch up. Meanwhile, traditional European carmakers are trying to buy time by flirting with their fast-growing Chinese rivals.

After decades of learning from others, the Chinese are proving that they have surpassed their masters and are capable of producing high-quality, efficient and affordable cars. If the solution to pollution is electric cars, then Europe, the US, Korea and Japan need China.

The recent acquisition of a 20% stake in Leapmotor by Stellantis is one of many examples of how Western carmakers are facing increasing competition from China. The deal follows others, such as those between BMW and Great Wall Motors, Mercedes and Geely, and Volkswagen and Xpeng, but how suitable is Leapmotor for Stellantis?

The benefits of the agreement

The agreement between the two companies is a win-win situation. Leapmotor is not one of the big eight Chinese players (BYD, Chery, Changan, Dongfeng, Geely, GAC, GWM and SAIC), but the brand is not fighting for survival. Last year, it sold 144,200 new cars, of which 99,500 were purely electric. It is considered a large and healthy start-up, along with NIO (160,000 units), Xpeng (141,600 units), Hozon (127,500) and Li Auto (376,000 units).

More than just volume, Leapmotor can provide Stellantis with expertise in electric cars and their technology. There are already plans to exploit this advantage in Europe with the introduction of the Chinese brand in the second half of 2024.

Ranking of Chinese electric car brands

Here are the worldwide sales of BEVs by Chinese brands in 2023:

  1. Aion, 480,003 units
  2. Wuling, 423,000 units
  3. Geely, 170,000 units
  4. Changan, 169,000 units
  5. MG, 165,000 units
  6. NIO, 160,038 units
  7. Xpeng, 141,601 units
  8. Zeekr, 118,685 units
  9. Hozon, 111,000 units
  10. ORA, 108,518 units
  11. Leapmotor, 99,500 units
  12. Chery, 87,100 units
  13. Hongqi, 79,000 units
  14. Beijing, 62,156 units
  15. IM Motors, 38,253 units

What could go wrong

However, the match could run into difficulties, given the range of products offered by the Chinese brand. There are plans to introduce the Leapmotor T03 and C10 on nine European markets. These two products are part of a wider range that also includes the C01, C11 and C16 models. In fact, two mid-size SUVs, a large SUV, a saloon and a city car. None of these are of interest to European motorists.

Leapmotor model range and segments

To what extent are Leapmotor products aligned with Europe?

The T03 is a small electric car that looks as cheap as the Dacia Spring. Stellantis could occupy a solid position in the A segment in Europe, thanks to the Fiat 500 and the Panda (which is doing very well in Italy). However, sales in this segment continue to fall. In 2014, these cars accounted for 8.9% of total registrations in Europe. This year, up to April, their market share was 4.9%. Do European motorists really need another city car from an unknown brand?

<p>Leapmotor T03</p>

Leapmotor T03

<p>Leapmotor C10</p>

Leapmotor C10

Then there's the C10, a medium-sized electric SUV (it's 4.73 m long) with five seats. It's almost as big as the Tesla Model Y (4.75m), the Toyota bZ4X (4.69m) and bigger than the seven-seat Mercedes EQB (4.68m). So far, all attempts to take on the Model Y's strong position have failed. Why should an unknown (by European standards) large SUV succeed?

Their only advantage should be their competitive price, but at a time when many European consumers are thinking twice about going electric, Stellantis and Leapmotor should be working on products dedicated to European tastes. Time will tell.

The author of this article, Felipe Munoz, is a specialist in the automotive industry at JATO Dynamics.

Gallery: Leapmotor T03