The threat of inexpensive but high-quality Chinese electric cars is scaring the pants off of the global auto industry. The U.S. recently said it would hike tariffs on the vehicles to 100%, effectively banning them from American soil for the time being. The European Union plans to raise tariffs too, and Bloomberg got the scoop on Thursday that Canada is strongly considering doing the same

But how good are these Chinese EVs, really? Are they a true threat to legacy auto manufacturers the world over—or is this a lot of political posturing? Most Americans—and most American journalists, for that matter—have no way to get acquainted with these cars and see what's what. So it's a real treat when Western automotive experts get hands-on with Chinese EVs and share their impressions with the rest of us. 

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China makes some great EVs

China has emerged as the dominant global force in electric vehicles, thanks in part to aggressive industrial policies that funneled billions into EV and battery manufacturing. Its cars are highly competitive on both cost and quality, reviewers say. But newly increased tariffs in the U.S. aim to keep Chinese EVs off of American roads. 

Caresoft, a Detroit benchmarking company, imported three Chinese EVs of varying sizes, brands and price points and invited John McElroy of Autoline News to take them for a spin

McElroy's verdict: "This is a wake-up call for all the legacy automakers all around the world."


The Zeekr X.

The Chinese vehicles weren't just solidly built, nice to drive and full of impressive technology. They also cost far less than a comparable EV would in the U.S. Here, EVs still tend to be pricier than gas-fueled vehicles, with the average new electric car changing hands for some $56,648 in May

Caresoft President Terry Woychowski—whose job it is to help car companies understand the competition—said the Chinese cars offer great bang for the buck. The idea that Chinese products are inherently inferior or cheaply made has gone fully out the window. 

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"At the price point they have, and if you look at the quality they're delivering, it's really excellent quality," Woychowski said. "It's a lot of value at this price."

(Check out the specs and pricing of the cars tested below, as quoted by Autoline. Note that range figures are based on China's testing procedure and aren't the same as U.S. EPA numbers.)

Vehicle XPeng G6 Zeekr X Avatr 12 
Drivetrain AWD AWD AWD
Power 480 hp 422 hp 569 hp
Battery Capacity  87.6 kWh 69 kWh 94.5 kWh
Range  434 miles 310 miles 403 miles
MSRP $32,317 $30,692 $55,667

Of the three cars profiled, perhaps the best showcase of that value is the Zeekr X, a compact crossover made by the Geely Group, which also owns brands you may have heard of like Volvo and Polestar. It's closely related to the Volvo EX30, but seemingly with better specs. (Our own Kevin Williams reviewed the Zeekr X as well, if you desire a deeper dive.)

Zeekr X Interior

The Zeekr X.

This Zeekr X carries an MSRP of $30,692, a price point that's hard to find in the U.S. EV market. What's more, the X offers upscale appointments like a heads-up display, a suede-like material on the pillars and doors that electronically open and close with the press of a button. The center console, which can electronically slide forward and backward, also has chilling and warming functions. The Zeekr X also has a huge central touchscreen that can slide across the dashboard for easier access by the front passenger.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a lot of this stuff on true luxury cars in the U.S. And yet, the Zeekr X costs about as much as any run-of-the-mill grocery-getter in the U.S. 

“This is why the legacy automakers are so afraid of what’s coming out of China," McElroy said. 

The car drove nicely as well, McElroy said. He noticed some rattles from the interior in previous tests of the Tesla Model Y and XPeng G6, but not in the Zeekr. "This car's rock solid," he said. 

It's basically the same value story with the other cars McElroy and Woychowski tested.

Xpeng G6

Xpeng G6

At $32,317, the XPeng G6 SUV clocks in at $5,000 cheaper than a Model Y, a direct competitor. Still, it drives about the same as the Tesla, has a more interesting interior and is comfortable, McElroy said. While the Model Y cuts costs by having a single center screen, the XPeng also serves up a digital gauge cluster behind the steering wheel. 

"I think Xiaopeng's got a real, serious competitor to the Model Y here," he said. 

2023 XPeng G6 interior

2023 XPeng G6 interior

Meanwhile, the $55,667 Avatr 12 sedan offers a luxurious Napa-leather interior, a full-width 34-inch screen along the bottom of the windshield and lay-flat seats. Plus, it comes equipped with a 900-volt system for extra-fast charging (most U.S.-market cars run at 400 volts) and cameras instead of side mirrors (which aren't legal in the U.S.). 

Avatr 12 at the unveiling: The exterior

Avatr 12

Overall, the test says a lot about how far ahead Chinese car manufacturers are on cost. While Western carmakers struggle to ramp up EV production volumes and bring down costs to consumers, Chinese companies are already there—thanks in part to aggressive industrial policies that funneled billions of dollars into EV manufacturing and supply chains. They're able to make vehicles that are inexpensive and jam-packed with features. For more proof of this, look no further than the roughly $10,000 BYD Seagull hatchback

The comparison also underlines how different Chinese consumers are from American ones—and how Chinese dominance of every major car market is far from guaranteed. 

Self-opening doors and refrigerated compartments are cool and all, but is that what Americans want? For Chinese car companies to steamroll into the U.S. market—like policymakers claim they will if given an opening—they'll need to adapt their knowhow to a completely new type of customer. That's easier said than done. 

Correction 6/21 8:45 PM ET: Updated to remove incorrect Tesla Model Y specifications.

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