Xiaomi Enters Electric Vehicle Market With US$10 Billion Commitment
Chinese smartphone giant joins crowded but burgeoning automobile market.
Chinese smartphone giant joins crowded but burgeoning automobile market.
HONG KONG—Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi Corp. became the latest tech company to launch a foray into China’s burgeoning electric vehicle market, pledging $10 billion over the next decade to the effort.
Xiaomi Chief Executive Lei Jun will lead the new stand-alone subsidiary focused on electric vehicles, the company said Tuesday. It will spend an initial 10 billion yuan, equivalent to about $1.5 billion, to launch the new company, expanding its investment in the coming years.
Xiaomi’s entrance into electric vehicles makes it one of China’s most high-profile tech companies to date to join the increasingly crowded market for such automobiles. Xiaomi’s status as a popular consumer brand with a rapidly expanding global footprint, could give it an edge over its many rivals, though new entrants into the car market face significant hurdles.
Mr Lei appeared late Tuesday before a cheering theatre of spectators in Beijing following the announcement. He told the audience that he had deliberated for months with the company’s board about whether Xiaomi should enter the electric vehicle market. He said he ultimately decided that the company’s deep cash cushion gave him the confidence to move forward.
“We have accumulated a lot of wisdom and experience and it’s time for us to try the waters,” Mr. Lei said.
Mr Lei offered scant details on how or when any Xiaomi vehicle would come to market, and didn’t disclose whether it had enlisted an outside manufacturer for the effort. Last week, Chinese car maker Great Wall Motor denied a report that it was working with Xiaomi on electric vehicles.
China is the world’s largest electric vehicle market, and Xiaomi joins a crowded field of companies looking to compete in the business. Sales of electric vehicles have been booming since industry champion Tesla Inc. began building its high-end cars in Shanghai in late 2019. Domestic rivals include NIO Inc.—whose soaring stock has made it one of the world’s most valuable auto makers—as well as Li Auto Inc. and Xpeng Inc.
In January, search-engine giant Baidu Inc. disclosed that it was entering the electric vehicle market with partner Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. Apple Inc. has been seeking partners to build electric vehicles since late last year, though talks to do so with South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group broke down in February.
Xiaomi is betting that its entry into electric vehicles will build on its resurgent success in smartphones. In the fourth quarter, the company became the world’s third-largest smartphone maker behind Apple and Samsung Electronics Co., occupying that spot for the first time ever. Booming sales in China, India and Western Europe have fueled its rise, while troubles at its Chinese rival Huawei Technologies Co. have sent customers flocking to its cut-rate devices.
The details of Xiaomi’s electric-vehicle effort came toward the close of a roughly two-hour new product launch hosted by Mr Lei in Beijing on Tuesday. In addition to smartphones, Xiaomi sells an array of consumer devices, and Mr Lei spent most of the event revealing a grab bag of new gadgets, including an internet-connected air conditioning unit, a home humidifier and a new laptop.
Only at the very end did Mr Lei discuss Xiaomi’s electric-vehicle plans. As an image of Mr Lei with his arm around Tesla CEO Elon Musk flashed behind him, the Chinese CEO said he had been a Tesla owner since 2013, and long had an interest in the technology.
“I hope that one day there will be a Xiaomi car on each and every street,” he said.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: March 30, 2021
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Food prices continue to rise at a rapid pace, surprising central banks and pressuring debt-laden governments
LONDON—Fresh out of an energy crisis, Europeans are facing a food-price explosion that is changing diets and forcing consumers across the region to tighten their belts—literally.
This is happening even though inflation as a whole is falling thanks to lower energy prices, presenting a new policy challenge for governments that deployed billions in aid last year to keep businesses and households afloat through the worst energy crisis in decades.
New data on Wednesday showed inflation in the U.K. fell sharply in April as energy prices cooled, following a similar pattern around Europe and in the U.S. But food prices were 19.3% higher than a year earlier.
The continued surge in food prices has caught central bankers off guard and pressured governments that are still reeling from the cost of last year’s emergency support to come to the rescue. And it is pressuring household budgets that are also under strain from rising borrowing costs.
In France, households have cut their food purchases by more than 10% since the invasion of Ukraine, while their purchases of energy have fallen by 4.8%.
In Germany, sales of food fell 1.1% in March from the previous month, and were down 10.3% from a year earlier, the largest drop since records began in 1994. According to the Federal Information Centre for Agriculture, meat consumption was lower in 2022 than at any time since records began in 1989, although it said that might partly reflect a continuing shift toward more plant-based diets.
Food retailers’ profit margins have contracted because they can’t pass on the entire price increases from their suppliers to their customers. Markus Mosa, chief executive of the Edeka supermarket chain, told German media that the company had stopped ordering products from several large suppliers because of rocketing prices.
A survey by the U.K.’s statistics agency earlier this month found that almost three-fifths of the poorest 20% of households were cutting back on food purchases.
“This is an access problem,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at insurer Allianz, who previously worked at the United Nations World Food Program. “Total food production has not plummeted. This is an entitlement crisis.”
Food accounts for a much larger share of consumer spending than energy, so a smaller rise in prices has a greater impact on budgets. The U.K.’s Resolution Foundation estimates that by the summer, the cumulative rise in food bills since 2020 will have amounted to 28 billion pounds, equivalent to $34.76 billion, outstripping the rise in energy bills, estimated at £25 billion.
“The cost of living crisis isn’t ending, it is just entering a new phase,” Torsten Bell, the research group’s chief executive, wrote in a recent report.
Food isn’t the only driver of inflation. In the U.K., the core rate of inflation—which excludes food and energy—rose to 6.8% in April from 6.2% in March, its highest level since 1992. Core inflation was close to its record high in the eurozone during the same month.
Still, Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey told lawmakers Tuesday that food prices now constitute a “fourth shock” to inflation after the bottlenecks that jammed supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in energy prices that accompanied Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and surprisingly tight labor markets.
Europe’s governments spent heavily on supporting households as energy prices soared. Now they have less room to borrow given the surge in debt since the pandemic struck in 2020.
Some governments—including those of Italy, Spain and Portugal—have cut sales taxes on food products to ease the burden on consumers. Others are leaning on food retailers to keep their prices in check. In March, the French government negotiated an agreement with leading retailers to refrain from price rises if it is possible to do so.
Retailers have also come under scrutiny in Ireland and a number of other European countries. In the U.K., lawmakers have launched an investigation into the entire food supply chain “from farm to fork.”
“Yesterday I had the food producers into Downing Street, and we’ve also been talking to the supermarkets, to the farmers, looking at every element of the supply chain and what we can do to pass on some of the reduction in costs that are coming through to consumers as fast as possible,” U.K. Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt said during The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.
The government’s Competition and Markets Authority last week said it would take a closer look at retailers.
“Given ongoing concerns about high prices, we are stepping up our work in the grocery sector to help ensure competition is working well,” said Sarah Cardell, who heads the CMA.
Some economists expect that added scrutiny to yield concrete results, assuming retailers won’t want to tarnish their image and will lean on their suppliers to keep prices down.
“With supermarkets now more heavily under the political spotlight, we think it more likely that price momentum in the food basket slows,” said Sanjay Raja, an economist at Deutsche Bank.
It isn’t entirely clear why food prices have risen so fast for so long. In world commodity markets, which set the prices received by farmers, food prices have been falling since April 2022. But raw commodity costs are just one part of the final price. Consumers are also paying for processing, packaging, transport and distribution, and the size of the gap between the farm and the dining table is unusually wide.
The BOE’s Bailey thinks one reason for the bank having misjudged food prices is that food producers entered into longer-term but relatively expensive contracts with fertilizer, energy and other suppliers around the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their eagerness to guarantee availability at a time of uncertainty.
But as the pressures being placed on retailers suggest, some policy makers suspect that an increase in profit margins may also have played a role. Speaking to lawmakers, Bailey was wary of placing any blame on food suppliers.
“It’s a story about rebuilding margins that were squeezed in the early part of last year,” he said.
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