Plugin vehicle sales continue to recover in China. They were still down 29% year over year (YoY) in April, but that was the smallest drop so far this year. Slightly more than 61,000 units were registered in April.
It is expected that this recovery will keep developing in the coming months, with the second half of the year probably seeing some months of positive growth, and maybe by the end of 2020 (fingers crossed!) we could see this market go back in black.
For now, the overall market is recovering faster, having dropped just 3% last month. As a consequence, April’s plugin electric vehicle (PEV) share was just 4% (2.9% fully electric vehicles/BEV). That keeps the 2020 share at 4.2% (3.3% BEV), a step below the 5.5% of 2019. Hopefully the second half of the year will bring the possibility of beating last year’s score.
For once, plugin hybrids (PHEVs) resisted better than BEVs, leading to a 28% vs. 72% breakdown between the two powertrain technologies in April, and dragging pure electrics down 2 percentage points in its 2020 share, now at 77%.
Looking at April best sellers, it’s “Startup Month Edition,” with two models from local startups (NIO ES6 and Li Xiang One) showing up while the young adult Tesla also contributes to the picture, with the Model 3. Additionally, the NIO-dusted Aion S from GAC makes an appearance, in 3rd.
Here’s more info on April’s top 5 best selling models:
#1 – BYD Qin Pro EV
BYD’s response to the GAC Aion S and BAIC EU-Series has won its first best seller trophy, thanks to 5,096 registrations in April. It seems BYD is betting on its electric sedan to ramp up and stay among the podium’s best sellers. If production capacity is not a problem, though, demand could still end up being an issue. After all, the GAC Aion S is cheaper and has better specs (59 kWh battery and 510 km NEDC electric range for the Aion, 53kWh and 421 km for the Qin).
#2 – Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility hit 4,312 registrations (including imports) in April, being relegated to the runner-up spot for the first time this year. But fear not — this is related to temporary price policies (buyers knew that Tesla would lower the price of its SR+ version in a few days). Tesla made some 10,000 units during April, so with the price effectively dropping below 300,000 RMB in May, expect a smashing month of sales on the rebound, with around 16,000 units likely to be delivered (6,000 from April + 10,000 made in May). Expect to see the sports sedan return to the leadership position.
#3 – GAC Aion S
GAC’s sleek sedan retuned to the podium, having registered 3,586 units in April, a new year best. While the Aion S is still far from its 8,460 units of last December, the ramp up continues and should reach cruising speed sometime in the summer. One of the most competitive domestic EVs on the market, the Aion S is sure to remain a regular in this top 5 and is a strong candidate for the medal positions.
#4 – NIO ES6
Another top 5 presence for NIO, with the midsize SUV ES6 scoring a record performance, thanks to 2,907 deliveries. Facing an uphill battle — 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 EV landscape. Not only do they have battery swap stations, but they also increase their models’ battery capacity regularly, from the initial 74 kWh back in 2018 to 80 kWh in 2019 and now in 2020 they have launched a 100 kWh option. 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 in a few months the Model Y-like (and 100kWh battery-equipped) EC6 crossover will land, possibly stealing the thunder from its larger, taller ES6 sibling.
#5 – Li Xiang One EREV
A startup that only started to deliver units last December, Li Xiang is fast becoming a relevant player in the market, winning its first top 5 presence in April thanks to a record 2,622 registrations, an amazing performance, especially when we consider that this is a 5-meter, 7-seat, full-size SUV. Using an original strategy when it comes to the powertrain, it is one of the few extended-range electric vehicles (EREV) on the market. It adds a 1.2 liter gasoline engine that works as a range extender to the 41 kWh battery with fast-charging capabilities. With such a fast production ramp up, there shouldn’t be any issues on that side. The question should be how much demand there will be for this unique proposition.
Looking at the 2020 ranking, there were some significant changes, with the GAC Aion S climbing one position to 3rd while the BMW 530Le followed it up to #4.
The local EV startups are shining, with the NIO ES6 jumping 3 spots, to #6, while the Li Xiang One did even better, shooting 4 positions, to #7. The Weltmeister EX5 (1,388 units, new year best) was in #14, the Xpeng G3 joined the table at #17, and the Hozon Neta N01 landed in #21, just 204 units behind the #20 position. We could have even 5 EV startup models in the top 20 soon!
In other news, in the “city EV” category, the tiny Baojun E-Series went up to #8, thanks to a year best 2,042 registrations, the Chery eQ (2,299 registrations, another year best) was up to #11, while the Great Wall Ora R1 jumped positions to #12, thanks to 1,760 registrations, which was, you guessed it, a new year best.
The BYD Tang PHEV climbed two positions, to #18, thanks to 1,122 registrations, a new year best. (Do you see a trend here?)
Outside the top 20 table, Volkswagen started flexing its muscles, with 5 models posting four-digit performances (Tiguan PHEV — 1,035 registrations; Tayron PHEV — 1,062; Magotan PHEV — 1,377; e-Golf — 2,068; e-Bora — 1,364). The veteran e-Golf hatchback jumped to #22, just 324 units away from the table, so expect it to join the table soon, despite its old age. Add the #15 Passat PHEV (1,137 units) and we have 6 VW models in four-digits in April. How do you say “The Empire Strikes Back” in Chinese? But more on that below. …
Looking at the manufacturer ranking, BYD (18%, up 1 percentage point) is in the leadership spot, with Tesla (12%, down 2 points) keeping the runner up spot, while SAIC (10%, down 2 points) is 3rd, and #4 GAC (7%, down 1 point) is closely watching #5 Volkswagen (7%, up 2 points) right behind it.
A Brand Side Story
In the race for global EV market supremacy, Tesla owns North America’s EV market and Volkswagen Group (VAG) already beats Tesla in Europe — so, their domestic markets are already in each of their bags — but China is neutral ground for both. On top of that, it is also the most competitive EV market in the world, with an army of local competitors. With the Model 3 now being made in China, Tesla took an early lead this year. So, despite April’s impressive performance, the German conglomerate currently has only 8% share in the Chinese plugin market, trailing 4 percentage points behind Tesla.
But what it lacks in appealing models (insert old-timer jokes), VAG compensates with its massive scale in China, allowing it to offer a plethora of models, including plugins, to local buyers. Just to have an idea, Volkswagen offers 3 (three) different plugin hybrid Passats (Made-in-China Passat PHEV, Magotan GTE, Made-in-Germany Passat GTE). So, to reduce the distance to Tesla in 2020, it is essential that VAG pull off a Space Cowboys stunt in China.
With the Tesla Model 3 the most likely winner of this year’s Best Seller title in China, but without other models that can follow the sports sedan’s lead, Tesla is now something of a one-trick pony in the Middle Kingdom, hence the reason why BYD’s full lineup allows it to be 6 percentage points ahead of Tesla and Volkswagen expects to replicate the same strategy to come closer to the American brand.
But the real fun will be in 2021, with the first member of the ID family (ID.4) expected to be Made in China by late 2020, the Tesla Model Y doing the same in early 2021, and the Made in China ID.3 set to start selling sometime next year. The local automakers probably won’t be sitting down either, and, at least in their own market, they will be looking to get in the way of the two EV titans.
Cool New Kids
The number of new models increased last month, in line with the market recovery, but only one has landed with a four-digit score:
Volkswagen Tayron GTE — A Volkswagen what?!? For the German brand to become the volume king in China, it needs models of all sizes and shapes, and there are a lot of them to choose from. For example, just in the SUV category, there are 11(!) different models. The Tayron is now one of them. A China-only model, the compact to midsize crossover comes across as a more road-going interpretation of the VW Tiguan, or a bigger sized T-Roc, and now VW has launched its PHEV version, the GTE.
With average specs (only 54 km of electric range) and pricing, but reassuringly familiar VW design and technology that won’t scare mainstream buyers, it could become a top 20 candidate, and with 1,062 registrations right in its first month, it looks like demand is there. But should the market tilt heavily towards BEVs in the future, as it has in the past, the Tayron could lose space and become irrelevant. Still, for VW head honchos, the important thing is to fill in the space in the market until its real sales star (VW ID.4) lands and takes charge. Sales target: 1,500–2,000 units/month.
Sales charts with “Others” included: