The potential presence of Chinese EVs in the U.S. has quickly become a hot-button issue. We’ve noticed deeply polarized reactions to our reporting on the Beijing Auto Show. However, the difference between what someone says online, what an elected official will say behind a podium, and what beliefs people genuinely hold can often be very different things.

Automotive research firm AutoPacific has shared some enlightening information that could go against (or confirm, depending on your views) how Americans feel about Chinese electric cars. The group found that Americans are pretty open to Chinese EVs—especially if they’re younger buyers. 

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It's not clear if Chinese EVs Will Make It To The U.S.

The Biden Administration has enacted new tariffs to counter the potential onslaught of cheaper Chinese EVs. A 100% tariff from EVs made in China would make them unpalatable in the U.S.

However, there are rumblings that some brands like BYD could build factories in Mexico and import to the US, avoiding the tariffs. That route is also politicized, with former President Donald Trump promising to enact tariffs on all vehicles made by Chinese companies, no matter if they're made in North America or not. 

For the survey, AutoPacific queried 800 people from ages 18 to 80. From that survey, the group learned that about 36% of all users surveyed said they’d “definitely” or “maybe” consider a Chinese-branded EV. Still, that number skyrockets to a whopping 76% when we only look at the data for buyers below the age of 40. Millennials and Gen Z are very much open to a Chinese-branded EV.

AP Study China

Why? Ed Kim, the president and Chief Analyst at AutoPacific, has a few ideas. It’s no secret that Millenials and Gen Z-ers are less economically well off than previous generations (read: broke). Chinese vehicles seem to promise a lot of content for not a lot of money.

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“AutoPacific research has shown a main reason many Americans are hesitant towards EVs is purchase price, and Chinese-brand EVs could potentially offer appealing EV products that could generate excitement for EVs at much more affordable price points,” Kim said. "For cash-strapped young people, a reasonably priced and feature-packed EV would be just what they’re looking for.

BYD Dolphin 8

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows for Chinese automakers. All age groups were fairly evenly concerned about the data protection and cybersecurity risks that could come with a Chinese EV. Even amongst the under-40 crowd that would be open to a Chinese EV, at least 68% of all surveyed were concerned about cybersecurity-related issues if the vehicles were to make it to the U.S.

But, once again, those concerns seem so secondary. The survey also learned that if the Chinese cars were made in the U.S., all age groups (including the over-60 crowd) would be more willing to consider the vehicles. Kim also thinks that those pesky cybersecurity concerns would fall away since  “most of the connected smartphones, smart watches, laptops, and connected home devices we are comfortable using every day are, in fact, manufactured in China.”

AP China Study 2

That’s probably very bittersweet news for Chinese automakers and American, European, Japanese, and Korean ones as well. For China, this survey shows promise that the second-largest car market is receptive to its products despite an escalating Automotive Cold War (and, in fact, escalating trade tensions in general) between the two nations.

However, it will be difficult to act on this, as a more than 100% tariff on Chinese EVs has put a significant roadblock (or, maybe a speed bump could be more accurate) to any of those brands selling in the U.S.

For the others, it shows how far they’ve fallen behind and failed to engage with buyers. Arguably, the most striking part of the AutoPacific survey is how aware all age groups are of Chinese-branded EVs.

How the heck are they even aware of these brands? Likely social media.

“I absolutely do feel that social media makes the world a lot smaller and raises awareness of products and technologies that are available in other parts of the world," Kim said. "That creates awareness and even demand for interesting and appealing products that aren’t available here. I would say that absolutely applies to automobiles, which in the case of Chinese vehicles speaks not only to vehicle enthusiasts but also to technology enthusiasts."

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Perhaps that’s tied to the U.S. State Department’s critique of TikTok; the Americans fear it may influence its users at the behest of the Chinese government. Thus, some could insist that U.S. consumer interest in Chinese EVs isn’t wholly organic and is merely a function of the Chinese government to get the world to buy its stuff.

Perhaps there’s a little bit of neo-McCarthyism mixed with an iota of truth. But Americans are seeing what’s going on overseas, and they’re intrigued.

If U.S. automakers don’t want to lose the youth entirely, they’ve got to get with the program. Because according to Kim, it’s more of a “when” rather than an “if” Chinese EVs come here. 

Contact the author: kevin.williams@insideevs.com 

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