PEKING (dpa-AFX) - Competition is tougher than ever, but Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW and others want to assert themselves in the important Chinese car market. At the start of the Beijing Motor Show on Thursday, the German manufacturers issued a challenge to the increasingly strong Chinese competition.

"We are not standing still," Mercedes boss Ola Källenius told journalists in Beijing: "China speed is Swabian speed," the CEO of the Dax group said confidently, referring to the rapid technical development in China and Mercedes' ability to adapt.

Although Chinese manufacturers are increasingly trying to gain a foothold in the premium segment, BMW boss Oliver Zipse believes his company is well equipped. "We are firmly convinced that we will continue to invest in China and contribute to the further expansion of German-Chinese cooperation," said Zipse at the motor show.

Shortly before the start of the trade fair, Volkswagen had also announced that it would press ahead with its race to catch up in the Chinese market for e-cars. "We are running at high speed to improve in this segment," said the head of the Volkswagen Group, Oliver Blume, in Beijing on Wednesday.

For Volkswagen, the aim is to prepare for the competition with manufacturers on the Chinese e-car market in terms of technology and costs. By 2026, the Wolfsburg-based company wants to be on a par with local competitors for entry-level models in the compact class - in the VW cosmos, this would be a Golf, for example. VW wants to finance the development of its e-car business in China with the sales in the combustion engine segment, which are still going well.

This is where the trend is heading

The motor show in China - one of the most important in the world - provides information about the manufacturers' direction of travel. This year, there were signs that so-called multifunctional vans could become more popular in the People's Republic. Mercedes is also planning to launch one of these luxurious electric vans on the market, as the head of its transportation division, Mathias Geisen, told Wirtschaftswoche. In addition to all kinds of entertainment, Chinese manufacturers are also offering ever more comfort features such as massage functions on the rear seats in their vehicles. The focus now seems to be on the passengers rather than the driver themselves. Work on autonomous driving is also continuing apace.

The situation in China

A fierce price war is raging among e-car manufacturers in China. Only a few suppliers are currently profitable in this segment. Meanwhile, there are concerns in Europe and the USA that China is also fueling overcapacity in e-cars through subsidies. Brussels is investigating this in an anti-subsidy investigation because the EU fears market distortions due to the cheaper e-cars from China compared to European competitors.

At the trade fair in Beijing, German manufacturers want to demonstrate their strength verbally. But the Chinese brands are following up on their home turf. The southern Chinese company BYD, which entered the e-segment early on and has since become the market leader in China, is presenting a whole range of new models, including an e-car for the equivalent of less than 10,000 euros. The trade fair is also full of young Chinese e-car start-ups that are vying for a share of the highly competitive market with their vehicles.

Lots of interest for market newcomers

There were particularly long queues at the Xiaomi stand at the start of the fair. The company is actually known as a cell phone manufacturer, but presented its first electric car at the end of March. Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun announced a successful market launch: the SU7, the Beijing-based company's first electric car, had already received 75,723 orders just 28 days after its launch, said the company founder. 5781 vehicles have already been delivered to customers. By the end of the year, 100,000 units are to be delivered, more than initially targeted.

Xiaomi is advertising its first vehicle as being faster than an electric Porsche Taycan in a certain version. The design of the SU7 is also reminiscent of models from the Stuttgart-based manufacturer. However, at a price starting at 27,000 euros, it is significantly cheaper. Companies from outside the industry, such as telecommunications giant Huawei and Baidu, a Chinese equivalent of Google, are also investing in electric cars and entering the market.

Trade policy also a topic at the trade fair

The competition between e-car manufacturers is also about overcapacity and the possibility of Europe being sealed off from relatively cheap cars from China. Chinese e-car manufacturer Nio is not worried about sales: "The demand for e-cars in China is very strong," said Nio boss Li Bin. In his own words, the Chinese company also hopes that the international car markets will remain as open as the Chinese market. Nio has a few branches in Germany, but has only sold very few cars so far.

Mercedes boss Källenius also has a clear opinion on the threat of EU punitive tariffs on Chinese cars. "You can't be naive, there have been protectionist currents here and there over the last five, six, seven years," he said. "In my opinion, the economic players who benefit most from open markets are not well advised to move towards protectionism." We must try to achieve equal opportunities between the economic regions in negotiations. "The attitude must be: Open and don't close."/jon/DP/jha