How about Geely: from the refrigerators to the EU-Majors

Geely is an increasingly well-known name in Scandinavia as well, and despite being present in Europe for several years now, until recently it was not on everyone’s lips.

This is because it doesn’t sell under its own brand in our countries, despite having one called Geely Auto. However, it was one of the the first Chinese manufacturers to acquire a European automaker, Volvo, in 2010. Only predecessor is SAIC, which acquired MG Rover in 2005.

Since then, it has experienced unstoppable growth, making it the world’s top electric vehicle manufacturer by quantity and one of the leading global groups in terms of the number of brands and sales volume. It is the only Chinese company, thanks to Volvo and Polestar, with a significant presence in the United States.

Geely’s origins, from a refrigerator manufacturer to the acquisition of Volvo

Geely’s story began just 36 years ago. In 1986, Li Shufu, freshly graduated in engineering from Yan Shan University, decided to establish a refrigerator company in Taizhou. The chosen name for this venture was “Geely,” which means “lucky in Mandarin Chinese.

Ten years later, Geely acquired a previously state-owned, failed company, giving rise to Geely Motorcycle and starting motorcycle production. In 1998, vans were added to the product line, and from 2002, the company expanded into car production, marking a significant turning point in its history. In 2004, Geely Auto was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and in the following two years, it showcased its products at the Frankfurt and Detroit auto shows.

Buoyed by these successes, Geely initiated a long and aggressive acquisition campaign that is still ongoing, distinguishing itself in the Chinese landscape by following the European model, albeit with some differences.

Image: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

From his youth, passionate about Volvo, Li Shufu established contacts with Ford in 2008. At that time, Ford, affected by the American crisis, was divesting all its brands, including the Swedish one, as part of the One Ford period, focusing all energies on the Ford and Lincoln brands.

The agreement materialized in 2010, representing the largest overseas acquisition by a Chinese automaker and bringing the Gothenburg-based brand to the most successful period in its history.

Volvo and its “offspring”

Under Geely’s management, Volvo Cars not only recovered resources but also gave rise to new brands by sharing platforms. The first one is Lynk & Co, founded in 2016 with offices in both China and Gothenburg. It launched its first models, the SUV 01 and the sedan 03, sharing platforms with the Volvo XC40 and the Volvo S60, respectively. The brand’s launch in Lindholmen, a district in the Swedish city, sparked much curiosity as it was the first time Volvo created something new in a joint venture with its own owner.

Image: Polestar

The following year, Polestar made its debut, a completely Swedish brand that is now independent with a sporting vocation. Zeekr followed in 2021, originating from a Lynk & Co concept car, which later became the Zeekr 001. Additionally, Geely established its Design Center in Gothenburg, confirming the uniqueness of leaving the headquarters of acquired brands in Europe, with production in China mainly focused on new Chinese brands or models for the local market.

London taxis, Benelli, and Lotus

In parallel with approaching Volvo, in 2007, Geely formed a joint venture with Manganese Bronze, the British company producing the famous London taxis, known as London Black Cabs. In 2013, the Chinese giant acquired Manganese Bronze Holdings, operating first as The London Taxi Company (LTI) and later as London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), keeping production in England and taking taxis out of London for the first time.

Lotus 2024 Lineup
Image: Lotus

In 2016, Geely acquired the majority of Zhejiang Qianjiang Motorcycle, one of the leading Chinese motorcycle manufacturers, and among the brands under its control is the Italian motorcycles maker Benelli. Moreover, the group is known for the production of lithium-ion batteries.

In 2017, Geely made new acquisitions, obtaining 49.9% of Proton Holdings, a Malaysian automotive company, and, most notably, 51% of Lotus Cars, previously controlled by Proton. Additionally, Geely secured Terrafugia, an American start-up specializing in the production of flying car prototypes.

Volvo Trucks and Smart

Also in 2017, Geely invested 3.25 billion euros in Volvo Group, the former parent company of the eponymous automaker it always controlled, including brands like Volvo Trucks, Volvo Buses, Volvo Penta, Mack Trucks, and Renault Trucks. This investment gave Geely a majority stake, accounting for 8.2% of the capital and 15.6% of the voting rights. In the same year, Geely also acquired the Danish bank Saxo Bank for its financial services.

In 2018, Geely became the majority shareholder with a 6.69% stake and an investment of 7.3 billion euros in Daimler AG, the German group that includes Mercedes, surpassing the stakes of other shareholders like the Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund, BlackRock, and the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

Car of the year
Image: Smart

The following year, Geely acquired 50% of Smart shares, creating an equal joint venture with Mercedes that assigned the German manufacturer the design and part of the engineering, while the rest was handled by China. The first tangible result of this new collaboration is the Smart #1 SUV.

In 2022, Geely launched Radar, a Chinese brand of electric pickups exclusively for China, and finally acquired 17% of Aston Martin. At the same time, it formed an alliance with Renault Group to establish Ampere, allowing the two companies to leverage their respective technologies for electric mobility.

Geely’s brands, including those sold only in China

Below are all the brands and companies that are part of Geely:

  1. Geely Auto
  2. Geely LCV
  3. Geometry
  4. Shanghai Maple
  5. Radar
  6. Qianjiang
  7. Lynk & Co
  8. Zeekr
  9. Proton
  10. Volvo Cars
  11. Polestar Cars
  12. Volvo Trucks and Volvo Buses (8.2%)
  13. Renault Trucks
  14. Horse (50%)
  15. Mack Trucks QM
  16. Daimler AG (10%)
  17. Smart (50%)
  18. Aston Martin (17%)
  19. Benelli
  20. Lotus Cars
  21. Saxo Bank
  22. Volocopter GmbH (German start-up for electric helicopters and air taxis)

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