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BYD: The car brand you’ve never heard of that’s taking on Tesla

The hunter has become the hunted.

Tesla, once the young upstart and industry disruptor, is now the EV market leader, and with that comes a sizeable target on your back.

Taking dead aim are a string of up-and-coming Chinese manufacturers using the electric revolution as the perfect opportunity to launch their brands in Europe with stylish, practical and affordable new models.

At the front of the pack is BYD, which as you’re asking, stands for Build Your Dreams. Best forget about that slightly corny name, though, because the cars are no joke.

In fact, in the final quarter of 2023, BYD overtook Tesla as the world’s top selling electric carmaker for the first time, selling 526,000 battery-only cars compared to Elon Musk’s 484,000.

And in 2024 and beyond, BYD is dreaming big in the UK with three models already available to buy or lease, from a compact hatchback to a family SUV and even a sporty saloon. By 2030 the brand is targeting sales of around 800,000 cars a year in Europe, so you best get used to the name.


Who is BYD?

While BYD is a newcomer to the UK car market, this is no start-up being run out of a shed in Shanghai.

It’s actually a massive Chinese manufacturing company that has been around since the 1990s with offices all around the globe.

Over the years, it’s made everything from cars to buses, as well as solar panels but it’s battery technology where its expertise really lays.

It started making batteries for smartphones (including Apple) and then expanded that same lithium-ion into bigger batteries for vehicles. It even still makes batteries for some other manufacturers and is responsible for half of all the iPads and a quarter of the world’s smartphones.

We’d say that gives it a pretty good grounding for making top notch electric cars.

The BYD electric car lineup

And so, the BYD electric cars.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in which case BYD is throwing out compliments left, right and centre. Its smallest model, the Dolphin, takes more than a few styling hints from the Volkswagen ID.3, while the family SUV Atto is a dead-ringer for the Audi Q2. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised… the BYD head of design used to work for Audi after all.

And then there’s the range-topping Seal (more on those aquatic names shortly). A sleek saloon that looks like the love-child of a Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model 3. And that’s not meant as a slight. We think it looks great.

Those sea creatures then. BYD might already be asking a lot of the UK driver to forgive the Beyond Your Dreams name but it’s doubling down with the Seal and Dolphin. It will soon take to the air, too, with the Seagull (a tiny city car) on its way.

We don’t hate it and it certainly makes the brand stand out, but when you consider GMW Ora ditched the Funky Cat name in favour of the more mainstream 03, we wonder how long these will remain as BYD takes on the big fish from Germany.

The Chinese takeover

BYD might be leading the charge at the moment when it comes to chasing down Tesla and the rest of the European elite but there are a few hot on its heels.

First is GMW Ora. We mentioned the 03 (the artist formerly known as the Funky Cat) and that was extremely well received. Next up for the brand is a Tesla Model 3 rival which will be called the 07.

There’s also Aiways. It announced plans for UK expansion last year with a pair of SUVs – the U5 and U6 – but they’re yet to hit the market. Watch this space.

And of course, let’s not forget MG. Yes, the brand name might be one of the most iconic in UK motoring but it’s now owned by SAIC Motor – a huge Chinese car company – that had a massive hit with the MG4 and is on the verge of launching the Cyberster, a two-seater electric sports car.

Let this serve as a final warning to the established brands that BYD (and the Chinese car industry) means business.

Test drive the latest BYD electric cars

Interested in taking the BYD for a spin? We’ve got the Dolphin, Atto and Seal all available to test drive at our Electric Forecourts®.