China’s Zeekr Is Now A Public Company. Its Path To U.S. Sales Is Less Clear

By automotive-mag.com 7 Min Read

Geely Auto, the Hangzhou-based owner of Polestar and Volvo, has too many brands. But lately, one of them in particular kind of stands out: Zeekr. This morning, Zeekr officially entered the U.S. stock exchange at a price of $21 per share and an estimated valuation of more than $5 billion. Within a few minutes of officially being open for trading, and with Zeekr EVs parked outside for all of Lower Manhattan to see, the stock touched nearly $27, pushing the company’s valuation to $7 billion.

It was quite a show of force, especially right after the show of force at the Beijing Auto Show—and the tariff crackdown on Chinese-made EVs that would become news the very same day. What a day for Geely, the Zeekr brand, China and the battle for electrification in general.

Granted, this isn’t the first EV startup—or even the first Geely-affiliated brand—to go public. So we have to wonder: will this one fizzle out and underperform like the other IPOs of late? And what does this mean in the context of a thirsty yet uncertain EV market?

It’s not clear. Nothing is ever clear until the final shoe drops, and the markets close.

Since its IPO in 2022, Polestar has done almost nothing but sink, now trading at an abysmal 15 cents per share, as of this writing. I asked Zeekr how this time will be different, but the automaker’s reps declined to comment.

Still, we can learn a lot if we just pay a little bit of attention. Let’s compare Zeekr to other less-than-stellar newly public companies. It might just be a little bit more secure than the other special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) debuts that gave us the publicly traded Lotus and Polestar brands. It’s also in significantly better straits than VinFast, another IPO that fizzled out shortly after introduction. (Also, it’s worth noting that nearly every company that went public with a SPAC, automotive or otherwise, has sunk like a rock.)

But one thing is certain: Zeekr is now the EV brand to watch, in China and beyond. It’s already expanding into Mexico and Europe, and it may even have its eyes on the U.S. next. TechCrunch is already calling Zeekr “the buzziest EV IPO of the year.”

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Market position-wise, Zeekr occupies a luxury or premium segment that I’d say is equivalent to Acura or Audi. Zeekr is (theoretically) downmarket from Polestar, which aims to court Porsche buyers with its Scandinavian-style minimalist motif. Polestar is sort of a sporty Volvo, whereas Zeekr tends to focus more on exterior and interior adornment. That’s interesting since both Polestar and Zeekr’s design work was performed mostly at Geely’s Gothenburg, Sweden studio. 

But while Polestar is really struggling for sales, Zeekr has consistently grown. Part of that success is offering a much fuller lineup of electric sedans, SUVs, wagons and even vans, while Polestar is just now getting around to adding two more crossovers after relying solely on the Polestar 2 sedan for so long. 

For March 2024, Zeekr is up 117% year-over-year. It also has delivered more than 230,000 cars while expanding into more international markets. Last year Zeekr delivered 118,685 cars, while Polestar only moved 54,600. This means that Zeekr outsold Polestar at more than a 2 to 1 ratio, a number it mustered upright as the Chinese EV market is in a race to the bottom, price-wise.

Of course, like most EV startups, Zeekr hasn’t yet turned a profit. But Zeekr representatives said the brand is on track to be profitable by the end of 2024.

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Zeekr is kind of an interesting duck here, especially for Americans. I’ve talked with Zeekr folks on several occasions here; the brand is more significant than a simple high-dollar electric Audi competitor. It’s responsible for a lot of the engineering and software work that is now used across the Geely Auto brands, including, yes, Polestar and Volvo. The Polestar 4 uses the same mechanical bits as the Zeekr 001. But just because Zeekr does a lot of behind-the-scenes work, doesn’t automatically mean it’ll come to the U.S.

Or does it?

Zeekr’s technology forms the basis for a self-driving Waymo car called the M Vision, and that’s already a known quantity. But, when I’ve asked directly if Zeekr has plans for the U.S. outside of a commercial vehicle or its tie-up with Waymo, the brand has been fairly wishy-washy.

In October, Zeekr reps told me at a New York event that selling a passenger vehicle in the US was potentially on the table, but then followed up via e-mail saying it had no plans to sell passenger vehicles in the U.S.

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I asked again a week before the IPO. “[The U.S.] is a market that [Zeekr is] looking at but not yet committing to for passenger vehicle sales,” a Geely rep told me. “Zeekr and Waymo are working together on the next generation of driverless vehicles; Zeekr will be providing the vehicle hardware, Waymo the driverless tech and experience.”

However, the U.S.’s attitude toward imported Chinese EVs has rapidly deteriorated within just a week of getting that statement. Zeekr’s vehicles from China could face a new 100% tariff on its vehicles, which isn’t great for the brand’s outlook as a potential U.S. passenger car offering—or the price of its stock. 

As my colleague Tim Levin said today, we’re entering a sort of automotive cold war here. Will Zeekr’s cars end up on sale in the U.S.? Right now, that feels more murky than ever.  

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