Car Makers and the Changing of the Guard

Not since Henry Ford declared that you could have your Model T in any colour as long as it was black, has there been such a seismic shift in the automotive landscape. The Model T offered a simple but unprecedented choice for the masses – get yourself a car… this car. In black.

Today there is an over-saturation of choice and an unprecedented level of confusion amongst the masses, the manufacturers, and, dare I admit it, the motoring media too.

All of that is compounded by cutting-edge technology aiming to evolve into driverless vehicles, and an environmental consciousness that puts electric vehicles (EVs) on a pedestal. Bewildered yet? You will be!

In this monumental motor manufacturing reshuffle, who will be sent to the junkyard in the sky, who’ll hold onto their parking spots, and who are the new kids on the street? Let’s try to make some sense of the shake-up.

The New Upstarts

With EV sales dictating the shift in the car scene, one name rockets high like the Starships of its sister company Space X, and that, of course, is Tesla. There is no question it initially set the pace in the EV race and is justifiably credited with making EVs appealing and sexy. But like some of Elon Musk’s Space X rockets, it has more recently been brought back down to Earth with a thud by BYD.

Now the largest maker of electrified vehicles in the world, Far Eastern giant BYD (which stands for Build Your Dreams - until they decided it didn’t), is leading the charge from China. Once primarily known for its batteries, it surpassed Tesla globally and in the UK sells three models, the Dolphin, Atto 3, and Seal, with a hybrid Seal U DM-I SUV coming soon. Keep an eye out for Yangwang – the luxury arm of BYD – which makes the U9 supercar and U8 SUV that can literally float on water.

Another Chinese company, Geely, is already here and has been for a long time. You never heard of it? That’s because it’s here by proxy.

Geely has owned Volvo since 2010, saving it from the fate suffered by its compatriot company, Saab (which died a decade ago). That means it also owns Volvo subsidiary, Polestar. Plus, it scooped up Lotus cars in 2017. And I’m not done yet. You know those new London taxis from LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company)? Yup, also Geely. Another subsidiary, Zeekr, is expected to arrive in 2025.

More weird, wacky and wonderful new brand names from the Orient include the GWM Ora Funky Cat, except sadly it’s not called that anymore. Less than two years after the launch, in November 2023, they renamed it the Ora 3. Tch… for a moment, that was delightfully unhinged branding. Still, take some consolation in knowing that GWM stands for Great Wall Motors, named after the Great Wall of China naturally.

Then there’s SAIC Motor Corp, one of that nation’s biggest car companies. Not a flicker of recognition, right? Perhaps this will help, SAIC owns Nanjing Automobile. Still nothing? You’re familiar with MG though? Formerly Morris Garages and what’s left of MG Rover, itself traced back to the illustrious British Motor Corporation (BMC) of the 1960s? Well, Nanjing picked up MG in 2006. MG is Chinese.

And then there’s the cherry on top, i.e. Chery. Entering the UK incognito, the Omoda 5 and E5 EV SUVs will go on sale next month, along with another sub-brand Jaecoo. These two are definite, but a third from Chery, Jetour, which makes the beefy-looking T2 off-roader, is also eyeing up the British Isles.

Other Chinese brands are making significant incursions as well. Xpeng is hitting the UK market next year; the MIFA 9 from Maxus, claimed to be the world’s first full-sized electric MPV, is already on sale here; and Nio could bring its selection of EVs in 2025 – especially as they have actually been developed in Oxfordshire. Watch out also for HiPhi, Aiways, Lynk & Co, Skywell from electronics firm Skyworth, and Seres owned by Dongfeng.

From across the Atlantic, springing from California, comes the Lucid Air and Gravity, a luxury EV saloon and SUV, also expected next year. Interestingly this company is majority-owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Let that sink in. Brand new fully-electric vehicles, via the States, from the land of oil. Times, they are definitely changing.

The Struggling Legacy Brands

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi made like a dodo and extinguished itself from the UK in 2020, a beloved brand not able to stay viable. We may see further casualties soon, especially as the ZEV Mandate (officially the Vehicle Emission Trading Scheme) kicks in.

This legislation, which was initiated at the beginning of 2024, requires a minimum percentage of a manufacturer’s sales to be EV – 22% this year, and increasing each following year up to 100% in 2035. Those that can’t meet this will be hit with hefty fines, ultimately making their operations untenable in the UK.

The traditional brands are fighting back, of course. Witness Volkswagen’s ID line of EVs; BMW, Audi, and Mercedes are countering with EVs and even marques like Nissan promise only to launch EVs henceforth.
These legacy car companies bring decades of automotive expertise, strong dealership networks, and crucially, customer loyalty. Nonetheless, a rapid switch to exclusively electric cars is likely to see more casualties from the big players. The shake-up continues.

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