Stellantis, owner of the Jeep, Fiat and Vauxhall brands, reportedly has said it would not take a defensive stance in the battle for electric car sales, amid signs of an escalating trade war in the market between Europe and China.

Chief executive, Carlos Tavares has criticised the EU tariffs on imported Chinese cars announced earlier this week and said the automaker preferred to “fight to stay competitive”, according to a Guardian report.

The European Commission intended to apply additional duties of up to 38.1% on imported Chinese made electric cars from July, a move that Beijing is likely to retaliate against.

Europe’s car industry had been opposed to the tariffs with German carmakers the most exposed to a trade war as almost a third of their sales came from China last year, the report noted.

“The German industry is very much exposed to Chinese business and this is the reason why Germany is expressing a negative option about those tariffs,” Tavares told journalists after an investor day.

He added: “Correcting the tariff is correcting a lack of competitiveness… We prefer to race than to be told that we are going to be protected, because we do not believe that being protected is a long lasting competitive position for a company like ours.

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“We are going to fight to be as competitive as we should be in the performance of the products, in the range, in the affordability; we’re going to compete because we are a global company.”

According to the Guardian, Tavares said Stellantis would stick to its “asset-light” strategy in China, focused on exporting to the country rather than manufacturing there.

“What is clear is that we don’t want to be defensive,” he told investors in Michigan. “Our strategy, that remains an asset-light strategy, is about making sure that we are ourselves offensive and surfing the wave of the Chinese offensive. Our asset-light strategy in China is much more robust than that of many of our competitors.”

Tavares also said at least two of Stellantis’ plants in the US needed “significant turnaround”. “We know what to do,” he added.

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