Stellantis says it will ‘fight’ for electric car sales rather than hide behind tariffs

The owner of the Jeep, Fiat and Vauxhall brands has said it will not take a defensive stance in the battle for electric car sales, amid signs of an escalating trade war in the market between Europe and China.

Stellantis’s chief executive, Carlos Tavares, has criticised the EU tariffs on imported Chinese cars announced on Wednesday and said the world’s fourth biggest carmaker preferred to “fight to stay competitive”.

The European Commission intends to apply additional duties of up to 38.1% on imported China-made electric cars from July, a move that Beijing is likely to retaliate against.

Europe’s car industry had been opposed to the tariffs, with German carmakers the most exposed to a trade war as almost a third of their sales came from China last year.

“The German industry is very much exposed to Chinese business and this is the reason why Germany is expressing a negative option about those tariffs,” Tavares told journalists after an investor day.

He added: “Correcting the tariff is correcting a lack of competitiveness… We prefer to race than to be told that we are going to be protected, because we do not believe that being protected is a long-lasting competitive position for a company like ours.

“We are going to fight to be as competitive as we should be in the performance of the products, in the range, in the affordability; we’re going to compete because we are a global company.”

Tavares said Stellantis would stick to its “asset-light” strategy in China, focused on exporting to the country rather than manufacturing there. Stellantis was created in 2021 from the €40bn merger between Italy’s Fiat Chrysler and the French owner of Peugeot, PSA.

“What is clear is that we don’t want to be defensive,” he told investors in Michigan. “Our strategy, that remains an asset-light strategy, is about making sure that we are ourselves offensive and surfing the wave of the Chinese offensive. Our asset-light strategy in China is much more robust than that of many of our competitors.”

Stellantis has bought a 21% stake in the Chinese carmaker Leapmotor and has formed a joint venture with it allowing the European company to sell and manufacture Leapmotor’s vehicles outside China. Stellantis leads the venture with a 51% stake and plans to export two electric vehicle models from China by the end of the year.

The new EU tariffs come on top of the existing 10% levy on cars imported into the EU, meaning some Chinese-made electric cars face total tariffs of up to 48%. The tariffs are aimed at countering the alleged state support handed to China’s car manufacturing industry, which has allowed it to sell cars abroad at cheaper prices than those of global rivals.

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China criticised the EU tariffs on Thursday as protectionist behaviour and said it hoped the European bloc would correct its “wrong practices”.

Stellantis shares closed 2.8% lower, similar to other European carmakers, due to uncertainty over how Beijing would respond to the tariffs.

Tavares said that at least two of Stellantis’s plants in the US needed “significant turnaround”. “We know what to do,” he said.


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