Germany’s Mercedes-Benz (then Daimler) and China’s BYD started a 50:50 joint venture company called ‘Shenzen BYD Daimler New Technology Co’ in 2010, signed off in Stuttgart.
For some context, at that time the Hong Kong-listed BYD Company was a leading battery maker but an up-and-coming car-maker.
Nevertheless it was flush with investor confidence since Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway took a 10 per cent stake in 2008 (for the now laughably low sum of $US230 million).
Meanwhile Mercedes-Benz was, like every other car company on the planet, pivoting to China’s insatiable luxury market, and its burgeoning middle class.
It also (correctly in hindsight) saw China at the time as the emerging best place to sell electric cars due to fat subsidies, and to learn what needed to be learned.
After the creation of the joint company in 2010, the Denza brand name (Tengshi in China) was launched in March 2012. It was billed as the first joint venture from an international carmaker and a local carmaker focused purely on low-emission vehicles.
BYD chairman and founder Wang Chuanfu summed it up at the brand launch, saying “We have the ideal partner in Daimler. BYD provides experience in battery technology and e-drive systems, as well as bringing EVs into operation on the streets of China.
“In connection with Daimler’s design of premium autos, know-how in electric vehicle architecture and safety, and more than 125 years of experience in automotive excellence, Denza is on the right track to become the leader in the New Energy Vehicle market in China,” he added.
By September 2014 the two parents together plowed more than €300 million into the shared company, and that month announced production of the eponymous road car; a tall-body small hatch with a 48kWh BYD lithium iron phosphate battery and 300km range claim.
Things went pretty slowly by Chinese electric car standards for some time. Updated versions of the launch car with progressively greater range range arrived in 2017 and 2019, while an SUV called Denza X appeared in late 2019, based on the BYD Tang.
Thus far all we have is a small EV that sort of looks like an older-generation Mercedes B-Class selling in pretty modest numbers, in China. Not exactly earth-changing.
By December 2021 Mercedes-Benz decided it had enough on its plate – including a growing relationship with another Chinese giant, Geely, headlined by a joint venture arrangement for the running of Smart – and largely walked away.
The company slashed its holdings in what had by then become known as Shenzhen Denza New Energy Automotive Co. to 10 per cent, transferring the rest of its equity to BYD with now holds a 90 per cent stake.
“Both Daimler and BYD remain dedicated to their successful long-term partnership,” claimed a Mercedes-Benz press release, promising “further growth opportunities with new models in 2022”.
“Through the development of the Denza brand, both Daimler and BYD gained valuable experience and customer insights in the China’s high-end NEV market, the largest and the most dynamic in the world,” it added.
New vehicles were promised and new vehicles were delivered, largely now under BYD’s stewardship.
The Denza D9 was the first all-new cab off the rank in May 2022. It’s a three-row luxury people-mover with either pure electric or plug-in hybrid drivetrains, bristling with the latest interior technologies and backed by a rapid expansion in brand stores.
The result was 30,000 customer orders in three months.
Earlier in 2023 the brand’s second model arrived. It’s a sporty-looking crossover called the Denza N7, based on the Denza Inception concept shown last year. It’s electric naturally, with reports claiming 395kW of power, BYD Blade batteries, BYD’s e-platform 3.0, and even onboard LiDAR.
And that’s where we are now. It’s claimed that by the end of 2023, Denza stores will cover 130 Chinese cities across the country. BYD says the company was soon offer at last one more SUV (called the N8) and one more sedan, and continue to sell both EVs and hybrids.
BYD Auto certainly doesn’t lack funding or ambition, which bodes well for Denza’s future. As the parent company continues to grow at pace, it will expand further into the international market.
Perhaps Denza’s future is to occupy a position as BYD’s middle-tier brand, with the company’s recently launched Yangwang nameplate marque as flagship.
Time will tell whether it really is rejuvenated after years of not much, or whether its star dims once again.