With the Chinese market slowly returning to normal, now that China has endured the first wave of the COVID pandemic, sales have started to recover from February’s fall into the abyss. In March they dropped just 51%, to around 60,000 units, a significant improvement from the 65% fall of the previous month.
It is expected that this recovery will grow in the coming months, with the second half of the year probably seeing positive months, and maybe by the end of 2020 we could see this market back in black.
As a consequence of these events, the March plug-in vehicle (PEV) share was 5.7% (4.8% fully electric/BEV), pulling the 2020 share to 4.2% (3.3% BEV). That’s a step below the 5.5% of 2019, but this is still the first month of the AC (After Corona) era, so we expect this number to grow throughout the year.
One positive sign is that BEVs are resisting the downward pull better, with all-electric models dropping 49% vs 58% for PHEVs, leading BEVs to have 84% of plug-in sales last month. That’s in line with the 86% of last December, and pulls 2020 BEV share to 79%. So, the “Go BEV, or Go Home” mantra continues.
Also, two of the four plug-in hybrids in the top 20 (Li Xiang and Tang PHEV) have usable electric ranges, so in the future, if legacy OEMs want to extend the commercial life of plug-in hybrids, they’d better start to add at least 30 kWh batteries and fast-charging capabilities.
Looking at March best sellers, the production ramp up is visible, with the 5-digit performance of the Tesla Model 3 leading the surge, but the remaining top 5 models also saw personal or year-best performances last month.
Here’s a closer look at March’s top 5 best selling models:
#1 – Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility hit 11,280 registrations (including imports), winning its third monthly best seller title in a row and its first 5-digit performance in China. While the absolute record is still far away — 21,963 registrations — BAIC’s December record could come into danger from the sporty silhouette of the Model 3 sometime this year.
#2 – BYD Qin Pro EV
BYD’s response to the GAC Aion S and BAIC EU-Series repeated February’s 2nd place finish last month, thanks to 5,271 registrations, a new record for the fully electric sedan. So, it seems BYD is betting on it to ramp up and stay among the best sellers. If production capacity is not a problem, demand might be, though. After all, the GAC Aion S is cheaper and has better specs (59 kWh battery and 510 km NEDC electric range for the Aion, 53 kWh and 421 km range for the Qin).
#3 – BAIC EU-Series
Beijing Auto’s star sedan and last year’s best selling EV in China is starting to flex its muscles, having reached 4,450 registrations last month, a new year best, ramping up its new R600 version (60 kWh battery, 460 km NEDC electric range). This should keep it relevant in the race for best selling EV.
#4 – GAC Aion S
GAC’s sleek sedan this time was left off of the podium, having scored 2,957 registrations. That’s a new year best, but it nevertheless was insufficient to win a medal, as local Big Boys (BYD and BAIC) have started to ramp up production more swiftly. One of the most competitive domestic EVs on the market, the Aion S is sure to remain a regular in this top 5, growing with the remaining market.
#5 – SAIC MG eZS EV
The production of the compact crossover has been ramping up, and although its career in its domestic market has been discreet so far, with a random top 5 presence, in overseas markets it is a whole different story. It is by far the best selling Chinese EV in foreign markets, providing not only relevant volumes in several European markets but also leading the EV revolution in a number of countries, like Israel, India, Chile, and Thailand. But back to China, last month it reached a year best 2,531 registrations, allowing it to achieve its first monthly top 5 spot in 2020. While the MG model has middle-of-the-road specs (45 kWh battery, 262 km / 163 mi WLTP range, 110 kW motor), it compensates with a spacious interior. On a final note, the secret of success for the Sino-British EV in export markets compared to other Chinese OEM efforts is that it benefits from a somewhat familiar brand (MG), which is associated with British-ness, even if in practice the Anglo-Saxon genes of the eZS are minimal. Additionally, above all, it sits in a relatively untapped end of the market (electric compact crossovers) that in the overall market is growing fast globally. Oh, and on a last-minute note, MG is bringing a compact station wagon to Europe this summer based on the Roewe Ei5, another category that local automakers have neglected.
Looking at the 2020 ranking, there were some significant changes. While the Tesla Model 3 cemented its leadership position, below it we have two new podium bearers, with the both the BYD Qin Pro EV and BAIC EU-Series jumping 3 positions to second and third place, respectively.
Local EV startups are starting to get a hold on the market as well, with the Hozon Neta N01 joining the table, in #19, making it the 4th startup model in this top 20, after the #9 NIO ES6, #11 Li Xiang One, and #13 Weltmeister EX5. And the XPeng G3 is not far from the top 20.
Just outside the table we also have the #21 BYD Song Pro EV, which scored a record 1,003 registrations last month and is now only 31 units behind its stablemate, the #20 BYD Tang PHEV. And the good news for the Shenzhen maker didn’t ended there, as BYD also saw its small crossover Yuan EV climb 4 positions, to #8, thanks to 2,009 registrations, its best result in 7 months. Meanwhile, the e2 hatchback (1,215 registrations, a year best) climbed to #15, helping the Shenzhen automaker to keep its leading position in the market.
Finally, the MG eZS EV jumped to #6, becoming the highest standing SAIC after surpassing the Roewe Ei5 station wagon.
Looking at the manufacturer ranking, the current disruption is being felt. While BYD (17%, up 2 percentage points) is keeping the leadership spot, below it there are seismic changes, with Tesla (14%, up 5 points) jumping to the runner up spot while SAIC (12%, down 2 points) drops to 3rd. GAC and BAIC are far off the podium, both with 8% share.
Another sign of the current disruption is that Geely, the #4 brand in 2019 and the largest Chinese automaker in the overall market, this year has dropped sharply, having just 3% share. Geely is suffering from the PHEV fall from grace (10 out of its 12 plug-in models are PHEV), and its Geometry A, set to be Geely’s take on the Tesla Model 3 recipe, is languishing in anonymity — more than 600 units below the top 20 and selling 6 times less than the GAC Aion S.
Hell, even the startup NIO is outselling Geely’s plug-ins. …
Cool New Kids on the Block
This month, there isn’t much to talk about, as OEMs are still recovering from the COVID crisis, but one automaker has been active. SAIC launched two new models. One is a small city EV, the Roewe Clever EV, a tiny 2-seater that is hoping to replicate the Baojun E-Series success. More interesting, though, should be the …
SAIC Roewe Ei6 EV — Not to be mistaken with the ei6 PHEV (notice the lowercase “e” for the PHEV version and the uppercase “E” for the BEV version), the fully electric version of Roewe’s compact sedan (VW Jetta) was born as a quick response to the market shift into BEVs, with the biggest design change being the new, grille-less front design. Details on this new version are scarce, but if the announced range (600 km NEDC) is true, then SAIC could have another representative on the top 20. Sales target: 3,000 units/month.
Here are the sales charts with “Others” included: