A Tesla clones for $12,000?

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A tiny, low-priced electric car called the Seagull has American automakers and politicians trembling.

The car, launched last year by Chinese automaker BYD, sells for around $12,000 in China, but drives well and is put together with craftsmanship that rivals U.S. electric vehicles that cost three times as much. A shorter-range version costs under $10,000.

Tariffs on imported Chinese vehicles will keep the Seagull out of America for now, and it likely would sell for more than 12 grand if imported.

But the rapid emergence of low-priced EVs from China could shake up the global auto industry in ways not seen since Japanese makers arrived during the oil crises of the 1970s. BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams,” could be a nightmare for the U.S. auto industry.

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“Any car company that’s not paying attention to them as a competitor is going to be lost when they hit their market,” said Sam Fiorani, a vice president at AutoForecast Solutions near Philadelphia. “BYD’s entry into the U.S. market isn’t an if. It’s a when.”

U.S. politicians and manufacturers already see Chinese EVs as a serious threat. The Biden administration on Tuesday is expected to announce 100% tariffs on electric vehicles imported from China, saying they pose a threat to U.S. jobs and national security.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing says in a paper that government subsidized Chinese EVs “could end up being an extinction-level event for the U.S. auto sector.”

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Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Chinese EVs are so good that without trade barriers, “they will pretty much demolish most other car companies in the world.”

Outside of China, EVs are often pricey, aimed at higher-income buyers. But Chinese brands offer affordable options for the masses — just as many governments are encouraging a shift away from gasoline vehicles to fight climate change.

Inside a huge garage near Detroit, a company called Caresoft Global tore apart and reassembled a bright green Seagull that its China office purchased and shipped to the U.S.



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