A SAIC model is driven into a cargo ship headed to Europe. [Photo provided to Newsvase.com]

China’s largest carmaker SAIC Motor Corporation is planning to scale up its overseas sales to 1.5 million by 2025, almost four times last year’s figure, according to senior executives.

SAIC, partner of US carmaker General Motors and Germany’s Volkswagen, sold 390,000 vehicles in overseas markets in 2020, up 11.3 percent from 2019, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They accounted for over one third of Chinese carmakers’ total overseas deliveries in the year.

“To be honest, the overseas markets are huge,” said Yu De, managing director of SAIC Motor International Business Department, in an interview on Friday.

According to SAIC estimates, annual sales in China could reach 30 million in the coming years, while the global market could reach 100 million a year.

SAIC, which has been primarily focused on the Chinese market, is starting to make overseas markets a top priority as well. By 2025, its overseas sales are expected to reach 1.5 million, accounting for 15 percent of its total sales.

Of them, one fifth, or 300,000 vehicles, would be sold in Europe, of which 70 percent to 80 percent would be electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids, according to SAIC.

Yu said the company has made some breakthroughs in Europe, where around 25,000 electric and plug-in hybrids were sold in 2020 and carbon credits generated a revenue of 40 million euros for the carmaker.

Europe, as the birthplace of modern vehicles, has been hard for international carmakers to gain a significant market share. Toyota has been in Europe for around 50 years and its market share is usually no more than 10 percent, said Yu.

But he said the new energy vehicle market is offering opportunities for Chinese carmakers that have been active early on. One example is SAIC’s MG EZS EV, which was the first small-sized electric SUV to receive a five-star Euro New Car Assessment Programme rating.

SAIC is currently selling three models in Europe, with another three to four scheduled to hit the European market this year, and all are plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles.

Zhao Aimin, executive vice-president of SAIC Motor International, said there would be three to four markets where its annual sales would reach 50,000, including Europe, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries and the Middle East, by around 2022.

SAIC started its international business unit in 2011, and now has a presence in over 60 countries and regions. Its overseas sales network comprises over 750 dealerships.

The company has three research and development centers overseas and four manufacturing plants, which are located in Thailand, Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

Yu said the plants would produce around 50 percent to 60 percent of vehicles SAIC would sell overseas by 2025.

Last year, SAIC launched its own shipping service to ensure quality and time-efficient deliveries.

“Usually, Chinese carmakers do not have a complete presence along the industry chain in overseas markets. SAIC is an exception,” Yu said.

“We have covered car production, spare parts, logistics and even financial service. We will bring into full play our advantage to better serve our customers.”