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China Electric Vehicle Sales — The Light At The End Of The Tunnel?

After some terrible months (-42% in November), the Chinese plug-in market seems to have finally bottomed out, falling just 22% year over year (YoY) in December, to 149,000 units, with both powertrain technologies dropping. Fully electric vehicles (BEVs) suffered less (only -17% YoY) than plug-in hybrids (-45%).

After some terrible months (-42% in November), the Chinese plug-in market seems to have finally bottomed out, falling just 22% year over year (YoY) in December, to 149,000 units, with both powertrain technologies dropping. Fully electric vehicles (BEVs) suffered less (only -17% YoY) than plug-in hybrids (-45%).

A significant consequence of the subsidy changes last summer is the fall from grace of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Despite the drops in the second half of the year, BEVs still managed to end the year with a 13% growth rate, while PHEVs went down by 13%.

And the trend is becoming more visible every passing month. In December, BEVs represented 86% of registrations, versus the 80% average of 2019, which conveys a strong message to the players in this market: “Go BEV, or Go Home.”

Interestingly, the overall automotive market also seems to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Although 2019 witnessed the second year in a row of sales drops (-10% YoY), something unprecedented happened in the last 30 days — in December, the market only dropped 1% YoY. So, we could see a return to growth in 2020, which could mean even better growth perspectives for the local plug-in vehicle market.

In fact, in the midst of this adverse environment, December’s plug-in vehicle (PEV) share reached a pretty good 6.8% (5.8% BEV) market share, pulling the 2019 PEV market share to its final result of 5.5% (4.4% for BEVs alone). That is significantly above the 2018 result (4.2%). On the other hand, it is still well below the 6.3% peak of last June. Maybe we’ll get there again in the second half of 2020?

While many models saw their sales dry up, and even full brands have gone the way of the dodo, like Hawtai, new models are taking over the void. Also, the most expensive end of the market continues to thrive, helping foreign OEMs to increase market share. In this particular portion of the industry (foreign automakers), Tesla was the winner, with the California-based brand taking 4% of the Chinese plug-in market.

But to be fair, while as an individual brand Tesla was the winner, with almost 43,000 vehicles registered, looking at automotive groups as a whole, the Volkswagen Group took the trophy, with some 47,000 vehicles registered.

Was this particular race (Best Selling Foreigner) in China the opening salvo for an Apple vs. Microsoft–like global rivalry in the foreseeable years? Discuss!

In December, Beijing Auto (BAIC) had a smashing month, with the EU-Series sedan scoring 21,963 registrations, a new monthly record for a single model in China, while the smaller EC-Series also registered a five-digit result, its first and only one in 2019.

But the surprise of the month was the new FAW Bestune B30 EV sedan coming out of nowhere to 8,735 units in December. Fleet deal?

Here are last month’s top 5 best selling models:

#1 – BAIC EU-Series: The electric sedan took the usual December peak to score a record performance, with the 21,963 units of last month being a new monthly high for a single model in China. In fact, if we disregard Tesla Model 3 performances in the USA, it was the best performance ever, by any EV, anywhere. What is the secret to its success? An attractive design and specs at a decent price help (215 hp, 416 km/260 mi NEDC, $32,500), but there must be more to it than just specs and a decent value for the money…

#2 – BAIC EC-Series: Next to the record performance of its EU-Series sibling the 11,409 units of BAIC’s small EV might seem puny, but it was enough for a #2 position. It was also the first (and only) time in 2019 that the city EV managed to score a five-digit number. Will the EC-Series recover its mojo this year?

#3 – FAW Bestune B30 EV: FAW’s bread and butter electric sedan was something of an underdog, with its sales paling next to the category’s best sellers. As an example, it had sold 3,434 units in the whole year of 2018. Then, out of the blue, the electric sedan registered a record 8,735 units in December! No doubt due to a fleet deal or more, because despite an okay design, its specs (33 kWh battery, 80 kW motor) are really weak for the category. Expect this model to continue to do well throughout 2020 because of fleet deals (taxis, etc.), but one thing is certain: FAW, one of the leading automotive makers in China, really needs a shot in the arm when it comes to EVs.

#4 – GAC Aion S: The rise and rise of the Aion S continues, as the sleek sedan is improving its performance every passing month, having scored yet another record, 8,460 registrations, in December. It reached 4th place last month, its 6th top 5 spot in a row. And if we added the 1,178 units of the badge-engineered Toyota iA5 EV, which is nothing other than a Aion S with a Toyota badge, the GAC sedan would have registered 9,638 units, which would place it in 3rd. But back to the Aion S, beyond its stylish (and aerodynamic — 0.245cd) looks, this new model bears some impressive specs: a 59 kWh CATL NCM 811 battery, 510 km/318 mi NEDC range, and Level 2 driving aids, but the real killer is the price: Around 180,000 CNY ($26,000) before subsidies!

#5 – Baojun E-Series: With the end of subsidies for most small city EVs unable to reach the minimum 250 km range, the Baojun E-Series won the lottery. The Shanghai Auto and General Motors offspring watched its sales jump in the past few months, winning consecutive podium positions, but last month it was only 5th, having registered 8,352 units. The access to the current subsidy, added to its competitive price (CNY 93,900 / $14,700 before subsidies), makes it an appealing model for carsharing companies, as well as other kinds of fleets.

2019 Ranking

We’ll start by celebrating the first best seller trophy of the BAIC EU-Series, with a new yearly record (111,047 units) as the cherry on top. The risky bet by Beijing Auto — switching its focus from the small EC-Series, a two-time best seller (2017 and 2018), to the larger EU-Series sedan — has payed off. It’s almost like BAIC knew what was ahead…

The runner-up spot went to the BYD Yuan EV, which at a given time seemed to be a strong contender for the leadership position, but then it was hit with a full frontal by the subsidy changes. The opposite happened to the 3rd placed Baojun E-Series — since the new rules were implemented, sales went through the roof, allowing it to jump from obscurity onto the podium! Further, that was the first podium position for a SAIC model since 2012, when the small Roewe E50 was #3, with 238 units … yeah, that many.

There were plenty of last-minute position changes, with the Roewe Ei5 recovering some positions and ending the year in 7th, a great improvement over the #15 spot of 2018. It seems Chinese buyers do like station wagons after all…

But the Climbers of the Month were once again the GAC Aion S, jumping 6 positions to #6, and the Tesla Model 3 joined the top 10, ending 2019 in #8, with the Californian being the first foreign nameplate to end a year in the top 10.

What’s impressive regarding these two models’ performance is that, while both ended the year with record performances, both have even bigger growth perspectives for 2020. The Aion S is growing fast (it has grown month after month since it landed), while its badge-engineered Toyota twin, the iA5, is already in four digits (1,178 units) in only its second month on the market. So, adding both together, as they are basically the same model, we get 9,638 units in December. So, I presume over 100,000 units won’t be impossible for the Aion S in 2020, something that the Tesla Model 3 should also be able to reach, thanks to the start of local production in Shanghai (the first 30 Made-In-China units were delivered in December).

With the BAIC EU-Series already at 100,000 units/year and SAIC’s Baojun E-Series regularly at 8,000-something performances, we could see at least 4 models hit the 100,000 mark in 2020 … which would make the top 5 race in 2020 quite interesting, wouldn’t it?

The BAIC EC-Series had a delivery peak (11,409 units, year best) last month, allowing it to jump 6 spots to #13, while the MG eZS EV joined the ranking in the last month of the year, thanks to a record 4,714 units, allowing it to be #19 in 2019.

But another important metric for the Shanghai Auto electric crossover is the behavior in overseas markets, with the Sino-British EV scoring close to 2,000 units in export markets last month, the best result ever for a China-made EV.

In fact, this electric crossover has several waiting lists to be fulfilled outside China. After all, there are already 2,100 orders for it in India, while in the UK I heard the interesting story that days after the price was announced in the UK, a few months ago, MG representatives were already asking for more units from the HQ in China, as the 2019 allocation had already been fully booked. It seems demand won’t be a problem for the MG eZS EV, but we have a question:

  • Will SAIC have enough production capability to satisfy demand?


  • Does the MG crossover have enough demand (and production) to reach 100,000 units globally in 2020?

With a ruling presence in the City EV field with the Baojun E-Series, and the MG eZS EV succeeding both in domestic and export markets, SAIC is becoming a fierce rival for both BYD and BAIC, and we could even see it overcome them during 2020.

(General Motors could profit from the rise of Shanghai Auto, considering the special relationship it has with it, but for that to happen, GM management would need to play its cards right, something that it has failed to do when comes to electric cars.)

Speaking of General Motors, among the several good results outside the top 20, the Buick Velite 6, GM’s stylish twin to the Roewe Ei5, had a record month in December, with 1,005 units registered. Will the Buick electric station wagon finally start to sell in significant numbers this year?

Also outside the top 20, a mention is due to the ramp up of the Volkswagen e-Lavida, now at 3,872 units. Additionally, the Audi Q2L e-tron registered 1,049 units in only its second month on the market. Volkswagen Group is rising…

A final reference goes out to the 3,455 units of Dongfeng’s Venucia D60 EV. Will this new electric sedan become the maker’s bread and butter EV?

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, BYD (19%) won its 6th trophy in a row, while below it, #2 BAIC (14%, up 1%) and #3 SAIC (12%, up 1%) benefitted from strong performances in December to gain share.

Geely (6%) ended far from the podium, and had to keep a close eye on GAC (5%) in order to keep the market’s 4th position until the end.

Interestingly, the podium performers have been repeating these exact same positions since 2017, but by the look of things, 2020 will be a much more balanced race in the manufacturer ranking, with the top 3 makers closer today than in the past, and GAC and Tesla (and Volkswagen?) running as dark horses.

Cool New Kids on the Block

There were a few landings last month. Changan launched the X7 EV midsize SUV, which has okay design but average specs (405 km/253 mi NEDC range, 150 kW motor), and a small minivan (F202 EV). Dongfeng brought out another Renault K-ZE rebadge, the Fengshen EX1, so the small Renault now has two Chinese rebadges (Venucia e30 and Fengshen EX1), both from Dongfeng. If you ask, “Why?!?”, my answer will be: “Because it’s Dongfeng,” as this particular Chinese OEM has 17 different EV nameplates, many of them going after the same kind of customers. … I know, product planning is not one of their strong points.

Back to new models, JMC launched a new city EV, the E180, with 305 km of NEDC range, so the maker now has an EV with access to subsidies. Additionally, Volvo launched the local production of its S60 PHEV sedan.

Finally, we welcome a new EV-only brand, Zedriv:

Two models (GC and GX5) of their 3 model lineup landed last month. The interesting GT3 small coupé (260 km NEDC range, 0–100 km/h in 7.6 secs) is set to come later. Zedriv is aiming for an urban audience looking for cheap n’ chic transportation, something that the GC embodies well. It must be looking to go after the BAIC EC-Series and Ora R1 customers. With an interesting design and good specs (36 kWh battery, 338 NEDC range), considering the low price ($12,000), the 456 units of December can be a good sign for the new brand in a very competitive field. Will it reach 2,000 units/month? It it does, then Zedriv can breathe and start to think about expansion.

As for the GX5, a small crossover being marketed as a more upper market proposition, the 338 km NEDC range and a 46 kWh battery leave it behind the category’s best models (e.g., BYD Yuan EV), which, incidentally, are suffering with the new market conditions (as in, dropped subsidies). So, despite its competitive pricing ($20,000), it will already be good if the GX5 reaches 500 units per month.

If you prefer sales charts with “Others” (all other models combined) included, here those are:


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Written By

Always interested in the auto industry, particularly in electric cars, Jose has been overviewed the sales evolution of plug-ins on the EV Sales blog, allowing him to gain an expert view on where EVs are right now and where they are headed in the future. The EV Sales blog has become a go-to source for people interested in electric car sales around the world. Extending that work and expertise, Jose is also market analyst on EV-Volumes and works with the European Alternative Fuels Observatory on EV sales matters.


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