Tata Sons Ltd. Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran, right, checks out a BYD Co. Seal electric sedan showcased at the India Auto Expo 2023 on January 11, 2023.
Tata Sons Ltd. Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran, right, checks out a BYD Co. Seal electric sedan showcased at the India Auto Expo 2023 on January 11, 2023. Image Credit: Bloomberg

New Delhi: BYD Co. launched its third electric car in India as the Chinese carmaker seeks to increase its market share in the country's budding electric vehicle segment.

The Shenzhen, Guangdong-based carmaker launched Seal, a premium electric sedan, with the price starting at 4.1 million rupees ($49,458), Sanjay Gopalakrishnan, vice president at BYD's India unit, told reporters in New Delhi Tuesday. "We're in the premium category and we want to be the leader in that," he said.

All of BYD's offerings in India - Atto 3 sport utility vehicle and E6 multipurpose vehicle - currently cost more than 3 million rupees. BYD sold 1,877 cars in 2023, up 314% from a year earlier, according to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations of India. For January alone, the company sold 150 cars locally, 7% more than the same month last year.

"Electric means premium and technology," Gopalakrishnan said. "That's what we want to focus on for the next two to three years."

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BYD, which recently toppled Tesla Inc. to become the new No. 1 in EVs after record deliveries in the December quarter, is facing a slowing market in the US, Europe as well as its home market. Price war is also eating into its growth in China while the European Commission is scrutinizing it as part of its anti-subsidy investigation.

India, with a rising bunch of affluent car buyers, is a bright spot as the EV market is still taking off "- 1.5 million electric vehicles were sold last year "- and where Tesla hasn't entered yet, leaving BYD to compete mostly with local heavyweights such as Tata Motors Ltd., which has the largest market share in the domestic EV segment.

Although BYD entered India in 2007 with its electronics business, the operations have picked up momentum only in the last few years.

Luring rivals

The burgeoning market is luring BYD's arch-rival, Tesla, too which has so far held out citing India's high tax structure on imported cars. Elon Musk said last year that Tesla will likely make a "significant investment" in the world's most-populous nation. BMW sees electric vehicles accounting for 25% of its sales in India by 2025, up from 10% last year.

These developments are widely expected to jump-start India's EV market, where charging and high prices of models remain a hurdle. While the price-conscious Indian consumers are lapping up electric two-wheelers, they are hesitant to switch to battery-powered cars that are costlier than their internal-combustion engine counterparts. Electric cars made up just 2.3% of the total passenger vehicles sold last year, according to BloombergNEF.

If BYD intends to control 40% of India's EV market by 2030, as Gopalakrishnan said last year, it will have to finetune its pricing strategy to tap a larger segment of the local car buyers.

The carmaker currently has 24 retail outlets in India and it "won't leave any major city untouched where EV sales are high" through its dealership network, he said.

All BYD cars are currently imported into the country, Gopalakrishnan said, declining to comment whether the company plans to invest in a local factory.