Tesla is fighting a price war in China to maintain its position as a leading manufacturer of EVs in the People’s Republic. However, even though local automakers are catching up to Tesla in terms of sales and market share, they are still far behind in terms of technology.

This view is shared by Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson, who recently said during the Financial Times Future of the Car Summit in London that even though Tesla’s Chinese rivals appear to have almost caught up to the American manufacturer, “if you look at the advance in core EV technology, they're still years and years behind.” He added that “in terms of the elegance of their drivetrain technology, the batteries, the way things are integrated… it's not even close.”

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Comparing the BYD Seal to the Tesla Model 3 reveals the tech gap

The most famous Tesla-rivaling Chinese car has been the BYD Seal, which does a lot of things right, but if you compare it to its direct rival, the Model 3, it lacks the same level of polish and technological elegance.

Rawlinson warned that Chinese automakers (of which over 120 were manufacturing EVs in 2023) have advanced “immeasurably” in the last few years and should not be underestimated. According to Business Insider, he went on to say “We underestimated the Chinese ability to make good cars. They're shockingly good. They're a lot better than they've been. They're just not quite there yet.”

Lucid is also trying to catch up to Tesla, and unlike many Tesla rivals (like Fisker), it has the necessary funding to not worry about going bankrupt. It recently cut the price of the cheapest version of its Air sedan (the Air Pure) to make it more competitive, and it’s also working to launch its first SUV, the Lucid Gravity. It is also known to be working on a midsize rival for the Tesla Model 3/Model Y priced under $50,000.

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In China, Tesla lost the EV sales lead in the final quarter of 2023 when it was overtaken by local car-making giant BYD. Talented local models like the Seal, which is an electric sedan specifically designed to take on the very popular Model 3, show how much Chinese automakers have advanced, but they also show there’s still a technology gap.

Other Chinese EV manufacturers that are chasing Tesla's success but aren't quite there yet include Xpeng, Nio and Xiaomi. All either already offer models that directly rival Tesla's or are in the process of developing them, but they have still yet to produce models that match or surpass the breadth of abilities of Tesla vehicles.

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