While the overall Chinese auto market returned to positive numbers in May (+7% year over year), plugins are still in the red and were down 32% last month, with close to 73,000 registrations.
This plugin vehicle (PEV) subpar performance is concerning, but because it might be connected to the incentives-related sales rush that happened around this same time last year — when incentives were cut towards the end of June — we will have to wait for July to see if growth returns by then, as expected, or if we are in for a lost year.
Still, it was the best month this year regarding volumes, and that showed in May’s PEV share, with 4.4% market share (3.3% fully electric vehicles) pulling the 2020 share up by a tenth of a percentage point, to 4.3% (3.3% BEV). That is still a step below the 5.5% PEV share of 2019, but hopefully the second half of the year will bring the possibility to reach last year’s score.
Looking at May’s best sellers, Tesla dominated the scene, almost tripling the deliveries of the #2 GAC Aion S. The surprise of the month came from Buick, with its Velite 6 station wagon winning May’s bronze medal.
Here’s more on the individual performances of May’s top 5 best selling models:
#1 — Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility hit a record 11,468 registrations (including estimated imports) in May, and while a record performance is always something to cheer, frankly, I was expecting better (15,000 was my target). While trying to find a reason for this, and after checking the local available inventory and orders, something interesting happened.
While on one hand there was a several-thousand-long waiting list for the Long Range RWD version of the car, on the other there were a few thousand Model 3 Standard Range models sitting in stock, which provides a couple of interesting insights on Model 3 demand. The upper end of the range still has significant demand, while the lower end is suffering from increased competition/adverse times, with the “Tesla is supply constrained” mantra proving to be more nuanced than previously thought.
Finally, the lower cost of the upcoming LFP battery for the Standard Range version is another piece of the puzzle, with Tesla proactively recognizing the current weak point of the Model 3 lineup. The new version allows Tesla to “play ball” with the local competition.
#2 — GAC Aion S
GAC’s sleek sedan finished second in May, having registered 3,892 units (excluding the 599 Toyota-badged iA5 units). That’s a new year best, and while the Aion S is still far from its 8,460 unit record of last December, the ramp-up continues and should reach cruising speed sometime during 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. It is a strong candidate to be in a medal position for the full year.
#3 — Buick Velite 6
This is something of an oddball in China. Station wagons, especially electric ones, are a niche in this market, but for some reason General Motors and its local partner SAIC thought it was a good idea to bet on them, and while the SAIC version has occasionally shown up here, this is the first time that the GM variation on the theme, the Buick Velite 6, reached a top 5 position. In fact, it earned GM its first medal ever in this market.
This compact wagon (think Chevrolet Cruze or Opel Astra-sized) has a couple of trump cards up its sleeve. Its style is original and striking (imagine if the original Opel Ampera/Chevy Volt had a second generation, and that generation was a wagon). Plus, it has a competitive 53 kWh battery, allowing it a 410 km (255 mile) NEDC range, and a complete set of features, including over-the-air software updates. All of this has allowed the Buick wagon to reach 3,526 registrations in May, by far its best result so far. Although, one wonders if this is just a one time thing, or will the GM EV become a regular feature in this top 5?
#4 — BYD Qin Pro EV
The popular automaker’s reply to the GAC Aion S, BAIC EU-Series, and Xpeng P7 reached 3,201 registrations in May. So, BYD’s bet on its electric sedan staying among the podium best sellers is working, but from here on out, demand could end up being an issue, with so many fierce competitors in this category and price range — and let’s not forget the internal competition that the upcoming Han full size car might also provide.
#5 — NIO ES6
NIO achieved another top showing, with its midsize SUV scoring 2,685 deliveries in May. 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 the concept add something new to the current EV landscape. Not only do they have battery swap stations, but they also increase their models’ battery capacity regularly, from the initial 74 kWh packs back in 2018 to 80 kWh packs in 2019 and now a 100 kWh pack 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 for NIO, but in a few months, the presumably cheaper and lighter EC6 midsize crossover-coupé will land, possibly stealing the thunder from its larger, taller ES6 sibling.
Looking at the 2020 ranking, the top positions remained the same, with Tesla possibly having enough of an advantage in front of it to start preparing the celebrations for its first Best Selling Model trophy ceremony in China. Meanwhile, the #6 NIO ES6 is closing in fast on the BAIC EU-Series, with the midsize SUV most likely surpassing the Beijing Auto sedan in June.
But NIO is not the only local EV startup shining, with the Weltmeister EX5 (1,421 units, a new year best) climbing to #13, while the Hozon Neta N01 returned to the table in #20, making that 5 EV startup models in the top 20! Disruption?
And to think 2019 ended with no startup model on the list … and the best selling foreigner (Tesla Model 3) ending only in #8! Now we have 2 foreign models (Tesla Model 3 and BMW 530Le) above that. Yes, disruption.
In other news, the city EV category is picking up. The tiny Baojun E-Series climbed yet again, now to #7, thanks to a year best 2,447 registrations, but the Chery eQ (2,563 units, a year best) is chasing it, with the small Chery jumping 2 positions to #9. Meanwhile, the Great Wall Ora R1 was also up, now at #11, thanks to 2,326 registrations — which was, you guessed it, a new year best.
The BYD e2 compact hatchback climbed two positions, to #14, thanks to 1,461 units, a new year best. (Do you see a trend here?)
We have two new entries to the table. Besides the aforementioned Neta N01, the Buick Velite 6 profited from an amazing May performance (3,526 units) to jump into #15, making that 4 foreign models in this top 20.
Outside the table, a reference should go out to the BYD Song Pro EV, which registered a record 1,015 units last month, jumping to #21, fewer than 100 units away from the #20 Hozon Neta N01. Also, the Changan Benni EV scored its best result in over a year, with 1,838 registrations.
Looking at the manufacturer ranking, BYD (17%, down 1 percentage point) is in the leadership position, but Tesla (14%, up 2 points) is rising, while SAIC (10%) is stable in 3rd. #4 GAC (7%) won a precious advantage over #5 Volkswagen (6%, down 1 point), but will struggle to get a podium position.
Cool New Kid on the Block
Usually, one new EV brand (Hycan) landing last month, especially born out of a hookup between such high-profile makers as NIO and GAC, would be the Cool New Kid of the Month, but not this time, because there’s something even more important landing. This is possibly the Launch of the Year in China:
X-what?!?! Xpeng — you know, the company that allegedly stole Tesla’s Autopilot source code. Only, Xpeng is so much more than that — it is in fact one of the most promising EV startups in China. It has some high-profile backers, like Xiaomi, Alibaba, and Foxconn. It launched its first model, the Tesla-inspired G3 compact SUV, in late 2018, and now it’s launching its second model, the P7, which can be described simplistically as a Model S kind of car, for Model 3 kind of money. Not only is it a lot of car for the money, but with a top NEDC range of 706 km (441 mi), thanks to a 81 kWh battery, it is the longest range EV made in China, Teslas included.
Add that to L3-level autonomous driving and competitive pricing (the base model starts at $32,400) and you have a model with
barely believable amazing specs and features, and while the G3 was contracted to another carmaker, Haima, by Xpeng, the P7 is homemade, in the brand new Zhaoqing factory (Guangdong province). The factory is said to have production capacity for a couple of thousand units/month, but sources say that orders far outpace installed capacity. (And with these specs, why wouldn’t they?) Xpeng is already planning to ramp up production.
If demand is not a problem — as the P7 is targeting every EV best seller in the country, as well as a few midsize ICE champions (Audi A4, etc.) — the production ramp-up (production hell?) of a new model in a new factory by a new car maker could be the bottleneck that prevents the new Xpeng model from reaching a top 5 (or podium?) position. That combo does have every ingredient for production problems, doesn’t it?
Here are the two sales charts above but with all other plugin models combined for an “Others” bar:
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