‘This doesn’t come across as cheap’

The imported EV hatchback may only cost $11,500, but it impressed industry veteran John McElroy.

China has put everyone on notice, but you probably already knew that by now. European, Japanese and American automakers have struggled to sell their EV models at a reasonable price without sacrificing any semblance of profitability. Meanwhile, cheap and cheerful Chinese-branded electric cars have only continued to spread around the world, reaching price parity with ICE cars without destroying profits.

In an effort to figure out how on earth Chinese OEMs are doing, Caresoft, an automotive benchmarking company from Detroit, imported one for analysis. This considerably impresses automotive journalist veteran John McElroy and Terry Woychowski, the president of Caresoft, the Automotive Benchmarking and Cost Reduction Consulting company.

“This doesn’t seem cheap,” says Woychowski.

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The BYD Seagull is a huge success

The BYD Seagull has been an incredible success for the Chinese brand. The brand was officially launched in China in April 2023 and had produced a whopping 200,000 units by early December of the same year. With a base price of around $10,000 and a range of up to 250 miles (according to CLTC standard), it’s no wonder why the small, inexpensive car is so popular.

The video starts with the two analyzing the exterior of the vehicle, as Woychowski mentions some of the likely cost-cutting measures BYD has taken to manufacture the Seagull. For example, the Seagull only has one mono wiper for the entire vehicle, which is located at the front. There is no rear wiper, which means BYD only needs to manufacture one wiper arm, one wiper motor and one wiper blade, which reduces costs.

Similarly, the two presenters commented on BYD’s talent for vertical integration. Not much, if any, of the Seagull is outsourced to an outside supplier. Body panels, light units, motors, batteries, power electronics and more are all made in-house by BYD itself.

But part of the real masterful production that Woychowski exudes is the way some of the vehicle’s spot welds, especially at the rear trunk portal, are exceptionally neat. According to Woychowski, he does not like that BYD’s factories had problems installing the panels. In addition, because the welds look nice, they do not need to be hidden with trimming, which saves costs.

In the video, McElroy and Woychowski are impressed with the perceived quality and tremendous value of the Seagull. At a price of around $11,500, the Seagull offers a lot of functionality and equipment for little money. This test vehicle came with a (synthetic) leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, a power driver’s seat and a surprising number of soft-touch surfaces. McElroy was impressed with the driving experience. With around 75 hp it is not lightning fast, but it is sufficient.

This imported Seagull isn’t built to meet US crash standards, but Woychowski did mention that BYD as a whole is adapting its model range to sell in Europe and beyond. BYD has already made significant changes to the Dolphin, adding a larger nose for better crash performance.

This once again shows how far China and BYD have come in the global auto race. I can agree with McElroy’s opinion, although I have not driven a BYD Seagull, but I was recently able to get behind the wheel of a BYD Atto 3 in Paris. I was similarly amazed at how good the vehicle was. The driving experience was pleasant and the car’s construction felt remarkably neat.

Like McElroy, I understood why so many consumers buy BYDs and the like. Chinese cars have reached the point where they are bought on merit, and not necessarily because they are cheap. These facts mean that Chinese electric vehicles inherently pose an existential threat to every other automaker.

Caresoft’s BYD Seagull will be taken apart, studied and tested in benchmarks. Soon we’ll better understand how BYD was able to make this car so cheaply, and whether it’s even possible for other automakers.

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