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 rise of electric vehicles in China, sees European collaboration as a promising path 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 EV sector could benefit both regions amid ongoing trade disputes.

“I think the governments of China and the European Union are now considering how, through negotiations, they can combine investment with commodity trade,” said Wan Gang, the current president of the China Association of Science and Technology. Wan made the remarks through 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 begin consultations with the EU regarding the bloc’s investigation into Chinese electric car subsidies. Earlier this month, the EU declared its intention to 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 by the time 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 lived through several periods of oil price volatility.

He recalled that in 2001, the Chinese government had set a goal of developing a “moderately prosperous society,” which called for every household to own a car. However, Wan predicted that an increase in gasoline-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 has been driven by a focus on national survival rather than competition. The United States also raised tariffs on Chinese electric car imports this year, 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 researching 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.