BYD’s aggressive discounts are annoying customers—and officials—in Thailand, the ‘Detroit of Asia’

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BYD is leading the charge into Thailand as Chinese EV makers search for overseas markets. On Thursday, the Warren Buffett-backed carmaker officially opened its first factory in the country, its first in Southeast Asia. Then on Saturday, BYD announced that it would acquire a 20% stake in Rever Automotive, the sole distributor of BYD’s vehicles in the country.

But it hasn’t all been good news for BYD. The carmaker’s recent discounts in Thailand have left some consumers feeling short-changed, leading to a probe by the Thai consumer protection agency. 

Last Tuesday, days before the opening of BYD’s new factory, Bangkok announced that it would probe dealers’ use of aggressive discounts. According to media reports, the investigation was prompted by a representative assuring a customer that a BYD model’s price would rise following a temporary discount—only for the price to fall even further.

Thailand’s consumer protection agency said it received 70 complaints since initiating the probe.

Rever’s website on Monday displayed several price cuts, but the highest was for the extended range Atto 3 which had a discount of 340,000 Thai baht ($9330) from a list price of 1,199,900 Thai baht ($32,911).

Thailand’s prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, brought up BYD’s snap discounts in a meeting with BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu during a Friday meeting. 

Wang promised support for aggrieved customers, and that future pricing would be “appropriate,” according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.

EV makers in China often resort to aggressive price cuts to win market share. BYD, Tesla, and their competitors are currently locked in a years-long price war that’s pressured their profit margins. 

Thailand is BYD’s biggest foreign market

Thailand is Southeast Asia’s hub for auto manufacturing, particularly of Japanese brands, leading to the moniker “The Detroit of Asia.” The Southeast Asian country is BYD’s largest overseas market for the first quarter of this year, according to market research firm Counterpoint Research, as the EV maker embarks on an aggressive global expansion.

BYD entered the Thai market in 2022 and is now the country’s best-selling EV brand. Wang, speaking Thursday at the opening of the company’s new Thai factory, claimed the Chinese carmaker has over 40% of Thailand’s market in “new energy vehicles,” a Chinese term that includes both battery EVs and plug-in hybrids. 

BYD started construction of its Thai factory in March 2023. The nearly $500 million facility will have a production capacity of 150,000 vehicles a year and is expected to employ about 10,000 people. The plant will produce cars both for the domestic and nearby Southeast Asian markets. 

EV tariffs

BYD’s moves into Thailand come amid a protectionist backlash in Western markets over the price of Chinese EVs. Since Friday, BYD cars imported into Europe are subject to an additional 17.4% tariff, on top of the existing 10% duty. 

The Chinese EV maker is pledging to build a factory in Hungary, which means it could soon be able to sell its cars in Europe tariff-free. 

BYD’s cars also face a steep 100% tariff in the U.S., leading the automaker to put U.S. expansion plans on the back burner.

Still, BYD is continuing its aggressive plans to build a global manufacturing footprint. In addition to plants in Thailand and Hungary, the company is planning to build or is reportedly considering plants in Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and Italy.

Officials in Turkey are reportedly set to announce a new $1 billion plant in Turkey on Monday, giving BYD another path into the European market. 

The reported announcement would follow a Friday decision from Turkish officials to no longer pursue a 40% tariff on all imported Chinese cars.

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