The electric car revolution is coming to Europe in a big way. EV sales in Italy are up more than 500% over last year. In France, they are up four times compared to last year. That’s wonderful news for EV fans, but France and Italy are not where the action is when it comes to sales of electric cars. China is the country everyone has their eye on. GM, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen expect EV sales in China to explode, creating a path toward monumental profits.
It’s not working out that way. Last year, China reduce or eliminated government incentives for electric car purchasers and sales slumped. To be fair, the changes in incentives applied primarily to short range EVs, cars that could barely go 100 miles (160 km) on a single battery charge. But the change let some of the air out of the Chinese EV boom.
No sooner had the market stabilized a bit than the coronavirus epidemic hit the country, throwing a king size monkey wrench into China’s economy. Some observers are comparing the virus to the plagues that wiped out entire segments of the European population hundreds of years ago. That may be a gross overstatement but fear has a way of breeding hyperbole. Not only that, fear is very, very bad for business. Frightened people are more likely to hold off on making buying decisions.
Forbes reports the Chinese automakers’ association CPCA predicts the sale of new automobiles could fall by as much as 50% in February, following in the wake of a disastrous January that saw sales plunge 20%. That’s bad, but the market for electric cars is even worse.
BAIC was the number one seller of EVs in China in 2019, with its BJEV model outselling any other electric car with 150,000 cars sold. BYD posted a similarly brutal month, Forbes says. Its EV sales fell more than 68% in January, while sales of its gasoline-powered cars actually rose 18% in January. This is not the sort of trend people were expecting. NIO reported a paltry 1,598 cars were sold in January, only 105 of which were its top-of-the-line ES8 SUVs.
We don’t have sales figures for Tesla available, but its Shanghai plant was shut down for a while due to the coronavirus outbreak, which is the last thing the company needs as it tries to get its first Chinese made cars to market. It is supposed to be operational again now.
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