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BYD launches its most direct Tesla competitor yet

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BYD Vice President Yang Dongsheng speaks at a launch event for the Denza N7 electric SUV on July 3, 2023, in Beijing.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese electric car giant BYD is launching a new electric SUV, its most direct competitor yet to Tesla’s Model Y.

BYD’s Denza brand said Monday evening it received more than 20,000 pre-orders for its N7 all-electric SUV, and announced a price range of 301,800 yuan to 379,800 yuan ($41,680 to $52,452).

That rivals Tesla’s Model Y, whose latest prices range from 263,900 yuan to 363,900 yuan, according to the company’s China website.

The Denza N7 is set to begin deliveries in about two weeks, according to the company.

“The Denza N7 is aimed squarely at the premium midsize crossover segment whose competition includes the Tesla Model Y and the Nio ES6,” said Tu Le, founder of Beijing-based advisory firm Sino Auto Insights.

Tesla is on track to reach its Q2 delivery target

“Denza has really been under the radar for a few years but BYD is ready to show off its rejuvenated brand and the media blitz points to their confidence in the product and their desire to keep pressure on the incumbents,” he said.

During Monday’s hour-plus launch event, BYD showed clips of local car media’s positive reviews while doing test drives.

A livestream of the event had nearly 2 million views on Weibo alone, the Chinese Twitter-like platform. That’s far above the 200,000 views that a Nio car launch livestream drew in late 2021.

In another page from Nio’s playbook, the Denza N7 launch in Beijing was followed by a live music performance.

Mercedes-Benz Group has a 10% stake in the Denza brand. Its prior electric model, the D9 multi-purpose vehicle, claims more than 10,000 sales a month since since March. That car is available in Thailand, and is set for release in Hong Kong, Macao and Europe, a brand representative said Monday, without sharing dates.

Tech features

From fast battery charging and in-house driving assist tech, to an array of in-car entertainment, the Denza N7 launch showed off features in stiff competition with what Nio, Tesla and other leading players in China’s electric car market offer.

“Denza N7 is the first luxury SUV to penetrate the market of BBA,” a slide at the launch event read in English, referring to the trio of high-end German brands Benz, BMW and Audi.

In an in-person presentation Monday, Denza’s general manager of sales, Zhao Changjiang noted the N7’s data privacy features like independent chip storage and the ability to turn off cameras.

The Denza N7 also claimed to come with an augmented reality head-up display — which uses AR tech to project information digitally over the road in front of the driver. Certain models include BYD’s new shock absorption technology for smoother rides, which domestic rivals have yet to sell.

Yang Dongsheng, vice president of BYD, touted driver-assist technology using Qualcomm chips and Nvidia Orin, which is commonly used in assisted driving systems. Orin isn’t affected by the U.S. bans on Nvidia’s sales of more advanced chips to China.

The car cockpit also connect with the Android smartphone operating system, Yang said.

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

For young people who are used to mobile phones, in-car connectivity systems are more attractive than driver-assist technology, Craig Zeng, CFO of online car information and shopping site Autohome, said in an interview last month. That’s according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin language remarks.

At the time Zeng said he expected competition in China’s new energy vehicle market would move into the 400,000 yuan to 500,000 yuan price range and above. The 100,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan price range has been the primary price range for cars in China, Zeng said.

New energy vehicles include hybrid-powered cars.

Electric car market grows

The Denza N7 SUV launch comes as major electric car startups saw a jump in June deliveries after recent softness. Nio climbed back above 10,000 monthly deliveries, while Xpeng topped 8,000.

Li Auto, whose cars come with a fuel tank to charge the battery and extend its driving range, reported more than 32,000 vehicle deliveries for June.

For context, Tesla sold about 42,500 cars in China in May, according to the latest figures available from the China Passenger Car Association.

BYD remains the giant in the market and said it sold 128,196 battery-powered passenger cars in June, up 84% from a year ago.

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