Zeekr, the China-based full-electric brand owned by Geely Automobile Holdings, will start sales in Europe this year. As part of that push, Zeekr hired Spiros Fotinos, a 24-year veteran of Toyota who was most recently head of Lexus Europe. Fotinos was named an Automotive News Europe Rising Star in 2021, when he was head of marketing, sales planning and logistics at Toyota Spain. Automotive News Europe correspondent Nick Gibbs spoke with Fotinos to discuss the brand’s aspirations in Europe, and how it plans to compete as a premium EV brand against tough competition from Tesla, established automakers and other newcomers.
Geely's Zeekr EV brand takes on Tesla, German premiums
Zeekr's Europe CEO, Spiros Fotinos, says the brand can be a top three premium pure EV player by 2030.
Meet the Europe boss
Name: Spiros Fotinos
Title: CEO, Zeekr Europe
Main challenge: Establishing an EV premium brand in Europe as established players expand their own electric model ranges.
You announced at the Shanghai auto show in April your plan to start European sales this year. What are you goals and how you how you hope to achieve them?
We want to be one of the top three premium pure-EV players by the end of the decade. That's our ambition. We will achieve that through product and customer experience. We will take one-stop-shop approach for EV customers, the majority of whom are first-time buyers of electric vehicles.
So the top three will be Tesla, Zeekr -- and who else?
It’s hard to say -- new brands are coming in all the time. Tesla will probably be there, but are they going to stay [premium] or are they going more mass market with the Tesla Model 2 coming? The German premiums occupy around 60 to 75 percent of the market, so if you cannot conquest from there, you are not going to grow very much.
What backs up your confidence that you can propel Zeekr into this elevated position by 2030?
First, we are a brand that was born pure EV. So everything from the perspective of product, service and experience is absolutely focused on that. We don't wear multiple hats. Second, having that Geely mechanism in the background means we know how to produce cars and do it at scale. So our ability to ramp up is different from a lot of the other start-up EV brands.
Will the bulk of that volume come from the Zeekr X compact SUV?
The X and the 001 [midsize crossover] are just the starting point for us. We have several models in the pipeline.
Which markets are you targeting first?
The first deliveries will be in the Netherlands and in Sweden, and then we will be rapidly expanding into the rest of Western Europe through 2026. Both of those models will arrive around the middle of the last quarter this year.
Establishing an unknown brand in Europe is a big challenge.
It's true. But at the same time, the openness and the curiosity of consumers, particularly in the EV space, is a unique opportunity. In Europe people tend to stay within the brands that they know, but EVs are disrupting that mental process and people are now starting to say, wait a minute, what other choices do I have? The appetite from a consumer side and the capability from our side are matching, and they're going to be matching more and more in the next years.
What can you offer extra in terms of specification over established brands?
In terms of EV capability, they will be quite competitive. We haven't finished the homologation but the 001 will have around 600 km (373 miles) of range, the X about 440 km. They'll both come in two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive versions. Charging from 10 to 80 percent will take approximately 30 minutes.
Who is offering that at the moment?
There is always somebody who will offer something better on specific items but as a package, I think we're quite competitive.
You haven’t released pricing. What is your strategy there?
The big opportunity for us in the premium segment is with people who are transitioning from conventional engines into EVs. They're discovering that if they want to stay within their premium brands, the price increase is absolutely huge. We think there's an opportunity for us to come with a proposition that's more accessible, without them having to give up specification, quality, comfort, reliability and so on.
So the pitch is: a premium EV for a premium internal combustion engine price?
It’s always difficult to do a net-for-net against ICE and EV, but definitely we want to make EVs much more accessible.
Have Tesla’s recent price cuts changed anything?
We're looking at that. And we're also looking at which other competitors have reacted and which ones haven't. Not having launched prices yet lets us take a good look at where the market is going.
The X is the right size for Europe, but how often can you ask Zeekr with its Chinese sales base to build a car for Europe?
We have an engineering team in Gothenburg [Sweden] of over 800. Their role is to say: These are the European requirements, this is where the European market is going. They are able to contribute to making sure that the cars are suitable for a European customer. We're not a Chinese export company. We obviously have huge engineering capabilities in China, but the team in Europe focuses on…I don't want to call it Europeanization, but you know what I mean.
What is your sales model?
The main backbone of our sales will be direct to consumer by us.
Will you have your own dealerships?
We'll have physical locations in the main European cities, yes. But we don't rule out selective partnerships that help us deliver the kind of convenience that we need for our consumers. But we're not interested in the traditional distribution/dealership approach for Western Europe.
What do you mean by offering customers a one-stop shop?
By addressing the anxieties people have moving to an EV. Like range, charging, reliability, residual values. We are creating a portfolio of services that let you acquire the car how you want -- financing or leasing or whatever. We can take care of your charging, whether it's home charging, public charging. We will have insurance, maintenance packages. We want to make it as easy as possible. The key words for us are innovative, convenient and rewarding.
What’s your approach to selling features by subscription?
The fact that we do a lot of in-house development on digital gives us the flexibility to create a user experience diverse enough for both the European and the Chinese consumer.
Do you have a target for subscription revenue?
This is definitely an area that we want to explore. What we want to do is make sure there's enough value in the base package. Then what can we look beyond that that if we're going to charge people. But it really has to bring value.
You also sell the 009 large minivan EV in China. Would you bring that Europe?
It's not a huge market in Europe, but the product is there. The minivan space I think is an interesting one. Western Europe went through that phase of the minivan being the thing and then it wasn't. The question is, will electrification rekindle the appetite for this kind of a vehicle? I think that's an interesting possibility.
Waht are Zeekr's sales targets in China?
Our target for this year is 140,000 units, double what we saw last year.