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Tesla Model 3 Leads Disrupted Chinese EV Market

With the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) market suffering from the general lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, sales took an expected beating, with only 15,000 passenger EVs registered in February, the worst result in over 3 years, representing a 65% drop year over year.

With the Chinese electric vehicle (EV) market suffering from the general lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, sales took an expected beating, with only 15,000 passenger EVs registered in February, the worst result in over 3 years, representing a 65% drop year over year.

Still, it could have been worse, especially considering the overall Chinese market was down by 82% in February.

As a consequence of these events, the February EV share grew to 6.6%, and 5.5% just among fully electric vehicles (BEV). That pulled the 2020 share to 3.7% (2.7% BEV), a step below the 5.5% of 2019, but we hope that after all the doom and gloom, the second half of the year witnesses a return to growth in China. (Maybe even two-digit performances?)

One positive sign from the February numbers was the return to a BEV-friendly market, with BEVs dropping only 57% while plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) fell 81%, leading BEVs to have 84% of plug-in sales in February. That’s in line with the 86% of last December, and pulls the 2020 BEV share of the EV market to 73%. So, the “Go BEV, or Go Home” mantra is back in this market. 

Looking at February best sellers doesn’t give you much of an idea of where the market is going, as it has more to do with existing stock and the extension of time that factories were closed than demand-driven logic.

Still, here’s more on February’s top 5 best selling models:

#1 — Tesla Model 3

The poster child for electric mobility delivered 2,284 units in February (including 152 imports), winning its second monthly best seller title in a row. And while it’s not (yet) the disruptive result that many expect from the Tesla sports sedan, let’s remember that this performance was strongly conditioned by the coronavirus outbreak. With the worst of the crisis now a thing of the past in China, expect production to ramp up quickly in the coming months. The sporty silhouette of the Model 3 should become a common sighting on Chinese streets soon.

#2 — BYD Qin Pro EV

BYD’s response to the GAC Aion S and BAIC EU-Series made it to 2nd place last month, earning BYD’s first podium position since last July, thanks to 1,477 registrations, but the BYD sedan will need to step up its game in order to stay among the best sellers. After all, the Aion S is cheaper and has better specs (59 kWh battery and 510 NEDC electric range for the Aion, 53kWh and 421 km of range for the Qin). The game has moved on, BYD.

#3 — GAC Aion S

Considering the circumstances, things continue to go well for the Aion S, with the sleek sedan securing another podium position, thanks to 1,433 units registered. Currently the most competitive domestic EV on the market, the GAC model is sure to be a regular on the podium, once the market returns to its regular pace.

#4 — BAIC EU-Series

Last year’s best selling model in China, and only the second EV globally (after the Tesla Model 3) to register more than 100,000 units in one year, Beijing Auto’s EU-Series sedan is back among the top sellers, hoping to ramp up its new R600 version swiftly (60 kWh battery, 460 km NEDC electric range) in order to beat the GAC Aion S in the race for best-selling EV.

#5 — NIO ES6

After a long, hard, road, NIO is finally showing up among the best sellers. It is the first domestic EV startup to place a model in the monthly top 5, thanks to 671 deliveries in February. Facing an uphill battle — after all, marrying “Premium” and “Chinese” in one EV-only brand is no easy task — the fact is that NIO products and concepts are intriguing and add something new to the current EV landscape. Not only do they have battery swap stations, but they also regularly increase their models’ battery capacity, from the initial 74 kWh pack back in 2018 to 80 kWh in 2019 and now a 100 kWh option in 2020. Even better, the brand allows existing owners to upgrade their current batteries to the 100 kWh pack for a little over $5,000! The ES6 is the current best seller, but by mid-2020, the Model Y-like (and 100 kWh battery-equipped) EC6 crossover is sure to become a big hit, possibly becoming a regular face in this top 5 in the second half of the year.

Looking at the 2020 ranking, there were some significant changes, like the climb of the GAC Aion S to the runner-up spot while the BYD Qin Pro EV jumped three positions, to #5.

The local EV startups are starting to get a hold on the market — not only the NIO ES6 rising to #5 in February, but also the Weltmeister EX5 jumping 4 positions, to #13.

Besides the Qin Pro EV, BYD also saw its small crossover Yuan EV climb positions, to #12, helping the Shenzhen automaker to recover its leading position in the market.

Finally, we have two models returning to the top 20, with the Chery eQ climbing to #18 while the Changan Eado EV rose to #19.

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, the current disruption is being felt, with BYD (15%, up 1 percentage point) and SAIC (14%) racing for the leadership position, while Tesla (9%, up 2 points) is the new bronze medalist, having surpassed GAC (8%, down 1%).

More important than looking at the current numbers is knowing what to expect in the next few months, right?

In March, more than 90% of automotive factories are back in production, so while that month will still see a transition to regular activities, CPCA expects a 40% drop in March in the overall market. April and May should witness a return to normalcy.

Thing is, what will be “normal” by then? A return to the growth numbers of H1 2019? Or the slow sales of the second half of 2019?

One thing is certain — this crisis will probably lead to some behavioral changes, like a possible loss of faith in public transport, which could mean a reinforcement of private vehicle ownership and/or changing buyer tastes.

In this last case, knowing that Chinese OEMs are faster to respond to changing environments, we could see a return to form from the surviving local OEMs, especially their startups, with several exciting new models (NIO EC6, XPeng P7, Byton M-Byte …) coming soon.

Cool New Kids on the Block

This month, there isn’t much to talk about, apart from a new model from a foreign brand, the…

Chevrolet Menlo — The segment-busting Menlo EV, part crossover, part hatchback, part station wagon, part MPV, part “whatever,” has a lot going on for it, starting with its original styling. Being based on the China-only Buick Velite 6 (53 kWh battery, 410 km NEDC electric range, 150 hp motor), there’s no problem with the specs either. The big problem that this EV has — as usual when it comes to GM — is how to market it. Without ever having understood the Chinese market, in its best year (2018), General Motors delivered fewer than 9,000 units — Buicks and Cadillacs counted together — and in an overall context of free-falling sales in China, GM needs to have success stories. Will the original design of this Chevrolet strike a chord with Chinese buyers? Priced competitively, in line with the GAC Aion S, we might get a surprise here. After all, who would have imagined that SAIC’s Roewe Ei5 station wagon was going to become a success? Oh, and by the way, GM, the Bolt could use some company in overseas markets. Sales target: 2,000 units/month.

Here are the same sales charts as above but with “Others” added:

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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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