- Tesla and China have dominated most facets of the electric vehicle market over the past decade.
- Europe is building out its own Tesla rivals and battery infrastructure to catch up.
- We profiled 7 of the region’s leading execs taking up the mantle against Elon Musk and Beijing.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
China has been the dominant force in electric vehicles.
The Beijing government has invested more than $60 billion to ensure the country is well set up to manage the shift away from internal combustion engines.
The country has set the tough goal of banning the sale of fossil-fuelled vehicles by 2035. Currently, around 6.3% of new car sales in China are made up of electric models, with the country intent on pushing that figure to 35% by 2025, according to data from Canalys.
To underpin this revolution, Beijing has installed around 800,000 public charging points. The US and Europe boast around 100,000 and 225,000 respectively.
China’s early and convincing plays around electric vehicles undoubtedly played a role in convincing Elon Musk’s Tesla to open a Gigafactory in Shanghai. Giga Shanghai was set up to produce low-cost Model 3 and Model Y saloons, two of the world’s most popular electric cars.
Despite traditional manufacturers like BMW, Audi, and Ford, all scrambling to ready their businesses for the pivot away from fossil fuels, Tesla’s grip in the market remains tight.
Musk’s firm accounts for just under a fifth of all new electric cars sold globally, per figures from EV Sales. Germany’s Volkswagen is some way behind in second place accounting for around 6% of new sales.
Tesla’s battery-manufacturing capabilities set it considerably clear of its traditional rivals. Hence why investors seem to value the business at more than double that of Toyota at $542 billion.
Electric vehicles rely on the development of lithium-ion battery cells, and it is here where China flexes its muscles. China accounts for around 73% of battery production globally, with the US accounting for 10% and Europe accounting for 6%, according to data from Benchmark Minerals.
But Europe is pushing to change the reliance on the East. Projects across the bloc have received heavy government support to kickstart the industry and catch up before it’s too late. The European Investment Bank has backed projects to build a mega-factory in the region, as well as invested in plans to establish charging points across the bloc.
To give an insight into the growing industry, Insider profiled some of the region’s top executives that are taking on both Tesla and China.
Former Tesla exec Peter Carlsson wants to shore up Europe’s battery supplies
Chief among Europe’s concerns is securing its own domestic lithium battery supply chain. The economics of electric vehicles become much trickier if you have to ship your batteries all the way from China.
Northvolt is among the bloc’s top projects. The Swedish manufacturer, which was set up by former Tesla executive Peter Carlsson, counts Volkswagen, BMW, and the European Investment Bank among its backers.
The company intends to build a massive battery plant in Skellefteå in northern Sweden and already has $27 billion worth of contracts agreed.
Carlsson departed Teslain 2015, where he had been head of supply chain. He intends on using that expertise to build Europe’s largest lithium-ion plant.
“The momentum for electrification is stronger than ever,” he told Insider.
“What Europe needs now is large volumes of high-quality batteries with a low CO2 footprint, and we must build a fully regionalized value chain to support this.”
Carlsson said that was exactly what Northvolt was focused on and that the company was also building a large-scale battery recycle plant to run alongside it.
Before joining Tesla, Carlsson held roles in NXP — formerly Philips Semiconductors — and Sony Ericsson.
Polestar’s Thomas Ingenlath is going up against Tesla’s Model 3
Taking on Tesla in the car market is not for the faint of heart, particularly for a new brand like Polestar.
Established car companies have struggled to get past Musk’s behemoth in sales but it has not been impossible. In 2020, the Renault Zoe electric hatchback became the best-selling car in Europe, eclipsing the Model 3 saloon, albeit with a much lower price tag.
Swedish brand Polestar, which is co-owned by Volvo and China’s Geely Holding Group, aims to carve out some of Tesla’s market share.
The company is headed up by Thomas Ingenlath, who has held top design roles at the likes of Audi, Volkswagen, and Skoda. The car brand’s latest effort, the Polestar 2, boasts an eye-catching design. It will go up against Tesla’s Model 3.
For Ingenlath, Europe has “huge potential” for a performance brand like Polestar.
“The drive towards an emission-free future is strong and real in Europe, as we recently saw it overtake China as the biggest EV market,” he told Insider.
“We see tremendous potential for growth, as evidenced by our recent announcement that we will be expanding into another three European markets.”
Ingenlath conceded that it took Europe longer than China to mature its EV sector but insisted that the bloc had “so much manufacturing experience and has really perfected the art of building cars”.
“At Polestar we always say that it is not good enough to just build a computer on wheels,” he said.
Birgitte Keulen is the banker funding Europe’s EV infrastructure
The European Investment Bank is one of the world’s largest providers of climate finance. The lending arm of the European Union plays a central role in Europe’s ambitions to establish itself as a leader in the electric vehicle sector.
The bank issues billions of euros of loans to sustainable transport businesses, ranging from large-scale factories to charger networks. As of 2019, the bank had signed deals totaling more than €10.5 billion for new transport projects. Those deals have continued to flow with the EIB pouring $350 million into Northvolt’s mega-factory plan.
Birgette Keulen acts as a coordinator for the bank’s cleaner transport facility, which aims to support the rollout of cleaner vehicles related infrastructure such as charging.
“While sales of electric passenger cars are growing rapidly in Europe, market penetration remains low,” she told Insider.
“That is why institutions such as the EIB help to develop the sector by catalyzing investment where it is needed: battery development and production, accelerating the deployment of public electric transport fleets, charging networks, as well as enabling digital solutions and research and development.”
Keulen has helped lead the bank’s development of the bloc’s charger network, as well as led investments into greener public transport in the likes of Denmark and France.
Taavi Madiberk is exploring fast-charge batteries
“In academic research and development, Europe is second to none relating to the EV challenge,” says Taavi Madiberk, the chief executive of Estonian battery startup Skeleton Technologies.
“Europe has, however, fallen behind in commercialization and to catch up, just going after scale will not work.”
Madiberk’s Skeleton has the potential to disrupt Tesla’s reliance on lithium-ion batteries. The company, which has raised over €90 million to date, including €51 million from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, focuses its efforts on a novel technology known as supercapacitors.
Supercapacitors offer the potential to charge much quicker than traditional lithium-ion batteries but have often struggled to hold the same amount of charge. That shortcoming, Skeleton believes, may be solved thanks to breakthroughs in nanomaterials like graphene.
Madiberk’s firm, which he set up a decade ago, operates Europe’s largest supercapacitor production facility in Saxony.
“We aim at merging the long-lifetime, fast-charging supercapacitors and high energy, long-duration battery technology, to allow to offer a more competitive long-range EV battery than currently on the market or in the development pipeline,” he says.
Maria Bengtsson is brokering deals and educating businesses about EVs
European governments have needed to move quickly on creating electric vehicle policies in recent years. To meet various net-zero commitments, states have had to prioritize fast-charging networks, VAT cuts, and other incentives to accelerate the switch away from petrol and diesel.
Maria Bengtsson, a director at EY and the consultancy firm’s electric vehicle lead, is one of the bloc’s leading commentators. She’s been working in the energy sector since 2006 and has advised companies around the major changes to their supply chains.
In addition, Bengtsson has been working with developers and investors in the bloc to advise on deals across the electric vehicle sector.
“While there is a great deal of interest in the sector from investors, with a significant amount of capital available, the business case needs to be clear, focused, and investible,” she said of Europe’s fledgling electric vehicle sector.
“In our experience, this is centered around having a well-defined position in the value chain and clearly showing how risks and uncertainty are dealt with — for example in relation to having a clear route to market or managing utilization risk in charging infrastructure.”
The EY exec has also worked with the likes of KPMG and FTI Consulting. Bengtsson also held pricing roles at General Motors’ Nordic HQ, covering the likes of Opel, Saab, and Chevrolet.
Avinash Rugoobur has inked a big electric truck deal with UPS
Tesla has committed heavily to building massive production plants in remote locations where its cars will be shipped all over the world from. Typically it needs the space to produce vehicles at scale and fulfill its long-held potential. For example, the Nevada Gigafactory spans over 15 million square feet.
Avinash Rugoobur’s Arrival is betting that bigger is no better. Instead, the company is pushing for hyperlocal micro-factories that can produce vehicles for a specific city.
The British firm has convinced others of its prospects after it went public through a $13 billion SPAC earlier in the year, despite having not technically sold a vehicle.
The UK startup is focused on commercial vehicles like buses and vans, though it has announced it’s designing a car for the ride-hailing industry.
Rugoobur is president and head of strategy for Arrival. He previously headed up strategy at autonomous driving company Cruise, which landed a $2.25 billion investment from Japanese tech investing giant SoftBank.
The Arrival chief is convinced legacy operators like Volkswagen, BMW, and even Tesla will need to follow his company’s lead toward building vehicles locally. He believes it’s going to be a “long path” and that they’re facing some very “difficult decisions”.
Anders Bergtoft wants to build out Europe’s charging infrastructure
Charging is another area that Tesla has excelled in for some time. The company’s Wall Connector typically retails at around $500.
But an alternative has emerged from the Nordics, with Stockholm-based Charge Amps.
The company sells home and office chargers that offer over-the-air updates and can charge two eclectic vehicles at once. While its price point of around €1,000 is higher than the Tesla alternative, the company hopes widespread government incentives will help initially drive sales. The company posted record orders for its chargers last year.
The firm, headed up by Anders Bergtoft since August, secured €12.8 million ($15.6 million) in pre-IPO funding last year.
Bergtoft previously held senior management positions at Ericsson, Microsoft, and American Express.
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