FRANKFURT — The name MG used to be synonymous with spirited but finicky sports cars from Britain. Nowadays the iconic octagonal badge serves a different kind of motoring ambition: China’s push to become a big player in the global auto market.
SAIC Motor, one of China’s Big Four automakers, bought the MG brand in 2007 and is stamping it on a line of electric sport utility vehicles on sale in Germany and other European markets. MG is an example of how Chinese carmakers are exploiting the shift to electric cars to challenge the American, European and Japanese carmakers that have long dominated the industry.
The Chinese automakers are arriving as electric cars surge in popularity, accounting for almost 10 percent of new car sales in Western Europe, and consumers are in a mood to buy, with savings built up during the pandemic. At the same time, car manufacturers are cutting back production because of shortages of microprocessors.
MG already has 350 dealers in 16 European countries and is still expanding. Two other Chinese automakers, Nio and BYD, are moving into Europe by way of Norway, the world’s most electrified large car market.
Nio, based in Shanghai, opened a dealership in Oslo at the end of September, the company’s first outlet outside China. BYD, based in Shenzhen, delivered an electric S.U.V. called the Tang, to the first Norwegian customer in August.
Polestar, which is based in Sweden but belongs to Geely Holding of China, has been selling a Chinese-made battery-powered model in Europe and the United States since 2020. And many of the Teslas on European roads were imported from the company’s factory in Shanghai. (That will change once the company finishes building a factory near Berlin.)
Foreign automakers like Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz or General Motors sell millions of cars in China, so they can hardly complain when Chinese automakers encroach on their turf. Even though China is the world’s largest car market, its brands have only a sliver of the international market. Even buyers in China prefer foreign brands, although local carmakers are growing quickly and have captured more than 40 percent of the domestic market.