Late last year, Jordanian car dealer Waleed Alheet ordered six BYD electric cars from a supplier in Jinan, China. He sold all six cars 10 days after they went on sale at his showroom in Zarqa, Jordan. So he ordered another six, then another 20, then another 10. This year, he plans to import more than 150 cars from BYD, China’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer — among the brand’s first passenger vehicles in the country.

“The price is perfect, and the quality is perfect,” Alheet told Rest of World. “I think [BYD] will be the number one in Jordan.”

Alheet is one of a growing number of dealers bullish about BYD’s prospects in the country, as Chinese-made EVs take the Middle East by storm. In March, BYD debuted its first official partnership in the region, with Jordanian distributor Mobility Solutions Auto Trade Company. Less than a week later, the company announced its impending arrival in the United Arab Emirates. 

BYD’s strides into the Middle East mark a new phase for many Chinese EV brands: a time to go global. In recent years, as a price war has erupted in China’s automobile market, cutthroat competition has driven EV manufacturers like BYD to set their sights abroad. Chinese EV companies have expanded into Thailand, Germany, and Japan, fulfilling the country’s long-term strategy of leading global exports. Between 2019 and 2022, China’s auto exports jumped from approximately 1 million to more than 3 million — of which nearly 22% were new energy vehicles.

Last week, China announced it had surpassed Japan as the world’s largest automobile exporter, as of the first quarter of 2023. According to Bill Russo, founder and CEO of the Shanghai-based research firm Automobility, many Chinese carmakers are seeking to sell their excess capacity abroad, after overall car sales peaked in 2017 and as growth in the domestic EV market slows. But BYD is the exception: The company not only dominates the market at home but is also ramping up manufacturing to aid the global shift to low-carbon transportation. “That’s what’s going to pull the rise of China into the global markets,” Russo told Rest of World. “It’s going to be this ability to build that scale in affordable electric vehicles.” 

As Chinese manufacturers step up competition with overseas companies, Jordan has emerged as an unlikely battlefield. Between 2020 and 2022, the number of EVs imported through the Zarqa Free Zone — which oversees 90% of auto sales in the country — jumped more than fourfold from 3,691 to 15,576, according to data from the Jordan Free Zone Investor Commission. Although the Jordanian market is small compared to other emerging markets such as India or Indonesia, it boasts favorable policies for EV buyers, such as a reduced customs and sales tax of 10% on all-electric vehicles, compared to 55% for hybrid models and 96% for gasoline cars. The Jordanian government has also invested in at least 10,000 charging stations, introduced electric bus and taxi fleets, and employed hundreds of Tesla EVs as government vehicles.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced local dealers to consider buying EVs from China, particularly in the early days of 2020, when production in the U.S. and Europe had shut down. Through these early sales, Jordanian drivers realized that Chinese brands could provide reliable, high-quality EVs at a reasonable price point, further driving up demand. If not for the pandemic, it might have taken another five years before Jordanian buyers came to trust vehicles outside of well-known European and American imports, Jihad Abunaser, secretary of the Jordan Free Zone Investor Commission and a car dealership owner, told Rest of World.

Rising fuel prices in the country also bolstered demand for EVs. Jordan is highly dependent on oil and gas imports, which comprise 94% of its domestic energy supply. As petroleum prices soared following the war in Ukraine and global inflation, the Jordanian government hiked fuel prices at least four times last year. The move enticed drivers away from fossil fuels towards EVs, providing Chinese manufacturers an opportunity to fill the gap. 

“I was passionate about Tesla cars, but BYD won me over with its offerings.”

BYD arrived late to the race — at least a year behind the now-popular, Chinese-made Volkswagen ID.4, and more than seven years behind Tesla. But dealers such as Abunaser remain confident that the company will reach the top spot, possibly within the year. In Jordan, Abunaser said, buyers care most about the price and their ability to maintain the car. BYD’s high-tech EVs are competitively priced — its Dolphin model retails at around $27,000 locally, compared to the $35,000 price tag of the Volkswagen ID.4, which Abusaner said had dominated Jordan’s EV market last year. “People don’t compare Honda and [Volkswagen] ID,” he said. “People compare [BYD’s] Atto 3 and the ID, or [BYD’s] Song Plus.”

BYD’s official partnership with distributor Mobility Solutions has also boosted Jordanian buyers’ confidence. Previous BYD imports arrived through the Zarqa Free Zone, where dealers can buy cars from anywhere in the world and sell them with minimal import duties — a loophole that has bolstered Jordan’s EV imports. But the loophole also meant that dealers in the free zone, like Alheet and Abunaser, could not provide warranties or spare parts since those required an authorized partnership with BYD. Now, the company services the market directly.

Tareq Awad, a Jordan-based consultant, believes BYD’s range of models and price points are what will help the company succeed in Jordan. The official dealer features four models, including the Tang sports utility vehicle, the Han sedan, and the Dolphin hatchback. The free zone offers even more, with prices ranging from around $14,000 to $47,000, according to Awad. “I was passionate about Tesla cars,” he told Rest of World over email, “but BYD won me over with its offerings.”

The shift away from gas-powered vehicles has accelerated BYD’s entry in global markets — from mature EV sectors like Singapore and Scandinavia to countries like Costa Rica and Brazil, where EVs are still niche. It has also diversified its products beyond cars — BYD batteries power new energy buses and trucks. Last year, the company overtook Tesla’s overall sales worldwide.

“It’s no surprise that BYD is expanding its market to other countries,” Zifei Yang, who heads the passenger vehicles program for the International Council on Clean Transportation, told Rest of World. “They’ve prepared themselves to be competitive in an EV-only future.”