Wang Chuanfu, a very poor orphan, was raised by his brothers. Now he is one of the richest Chinese – and he is preparing to conquer the German market with his BYD car brand.
Wang Chuanfu is not afraid to lose. Maybe that’s what makes him so successful. A quarter of a century ago, he bought BYD, an ailing state-owned car company, to envision China’s battery-powered mobility future. “Build Your Dreams” is a fitting acronym for a group that managed to do just that in the first half of 2022. Volkswagen or General Motors could only dream so far: The Shenzhen-based company has beaten market leader Tesla and, with 641,000 units, sold the most electric cars in the world from January to July.
Now BYD also wants to be the first Chinese car manufacturer to play an important role in the European market. The first exclamation mark is already here: Car rental company Sixt recently announced that it will buy about 100,000 electric cars from the Chinese manufacturer over the next few years. These are initially aimed at Sixt customers in Germany, France,, The Netherlands and England Tobe offered. For a Chinese brand, which so far only a few people know outside its home market, it is a prestigious achievement. For Wang Chuanfu, it is the next logical step.
His older brothers are raising him
The curriculum vitae of the 56-year-old is a reflection of the “Chinese dream” of the years of economic growth. Born into a very poor family in the backwater province of Anhui, Wang lost both parents at a young age. The orphan is raised by his older brothers as the second last child among eight children. Because of his excellent school performance, the boy arrives at Changsha University, where he studies chemistry. There he learns for the first time in detail how rechargeable batteries work.
As a beacon of hope for his impoverished family, great expectations now weigh on Wang’s shoulders. However, he leaves his job as a scientist at a research institute in Beijing, which would undoubtedly carry him into retirement. Wang Chuanfu feels slowed down by the bureaucratic chaos in the Chinese capital. He has high ambitions and during the 1990s entrepreneurial opportunities appeared on the streets – especially in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, where Wang has ended up.
The battery manufacturer also builds its own vehicles
This place was declared as the country’s first special economic zone by the economic reformer Deng Xiaoping in 1980. The decision quickly led the fishing village to become one of the country’s most important economic centers. At the age of less than 30, Wang founded BYD there – initially as a pure battery producer. But Wang was thinking ahead even then. Its batteries will not only end up in mobile phones and home electronics, but will soon also be installed in self-made cars.
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The business was already doing well in the 2000s, but internationally only the top experts had the Chinese company on their radar. That only changed when Warren Buffett surprisingly invested more than $230 million in BYD in 2008 – and has owned eight percent of the company ever since. At the time, investors around the world wondered why the story of American entrepreneurship depended on a seemingly unknown car manufacturer from Shenzhen.
Dependence on global supply chains is low
But the bet has long paid off, BYD stock prices have increased more than twenty times since 2008. The Chinese success story should serve as a wake-up call, especially for the German auto industry. BYD grew its sales by more than 300 percent year-on-year and is the most popular car brand among Chinese consumers, ahead of Tesla and Volkswagen, according to an annual survey by American wealth manager Bernstein.
From a technological point of view, the Chinese are ahead of the pack, especially in the battery sector, thanks to their many years of experience. The know-how allows BYD to deliver greater energy density with less volume. In addition, many parts are manufactured in-house, right down to the chip components, which reduces dependence on global supply chains.
Wang Chuanfu is one of the ten richest Chinese
That business has paid off for Wang Chuanfu, too: The 56-year-old recently became China’s sixth-richest person, and his $26 billion personal fortune has more than sixfold since the start of the pandemic alone. The annual list of the richest people in the People’s Republic also reflects a major political shift under Xi Jinping: while a few years ago property developers and startup founders dominated the top spots, after the real estate crisis and a wave of technology regulations, owners of green energy companies or e- Car manufacturers are increasing.
It is also in line with the current Chinese zeitgeist that Wang Chuanfu does not flaunt his wealth openly. His employees describe him as a hard worker who generously rewards performance but at the same time demands strict standards. “Our company has only one voice and no other,” he once said in one of his rare interviews.