A star is born in China. And it is not the flashy Xpeng P7 (1,725 units) or BYD Han EV (1,205), but something far more humble. More on that below.
The overall Chinese market went back to positive numbers in July (+9% year over year), with plugin vehicles faring much better, growing 48% last month, to 95,000 units, a new year best. Full-electric vehicles (BEVs) jumped 65%, to 75,000, while plugin hybrids grew a shy 5%, to 20,000.
Expect the next months to see a confirmation of the growth trend, as July 2019 was the first month with the current subsidy rules.
July was the best selling month this year, and it shows, as July’s plugin share reached 5.7% (4.5% BEV), pulling the 2020 share slightly up, to 4.8% (3.8% BEV), which is still below the 5.5% of 2019 but is a step in the right direction, and hopefully the second half of the year will bring the possibility to (at least) reach last year’s score.
Looking at July’s best sellers, we have 3 compact-to-midsize sedans (#1 Tesla Model 3, #3 GAC Aion S, and #5 BYD Qin Pro EV) and 2 city EVs, both from the same stable, the SAIC-GM-Wuling conglomerate — the Baojun E-Series in 4th and the new Wuling Mini EV, a tiny, cheap EV that is sure to make seismic waves on the market, immediately reaching the runner-up spot in its first full sales month….
Here’s a closer look at July’s top 5 best selling models:
#1 — Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility hit a monthly record 11,575 units (including a few imports), and while this is not its all-time best, Tesla’s midsizer is firmly above the 10,000 mark. And the Model 3 is starting to get in the way of the category best sellers in the overall market, as the Californian was ahead of the Audi A4 and not that far off from the BMW 3 Series (14,351 units) and Mercedes C-Class (14,633). So, the Tesla sports sedan still has some room to grow. Will we see it reach some 15,000 units/month cruising speed this year? Another question is: will Tesla deliver a surprise performance in September? Hmmm … discuss!
#2 — Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV
A big name for such a small car (is it an overcompensation thing?), the Wuling EV (let’s just call it that) scored 7,348 units in its first full sales month, a record landing for any model. That is only the tip of the iceberg, as this vehicle is currently the one with the highest number of reservations in China (about 50,000 have already been ordered), and deliveries in August are already above 15,000! So, what is the secret?
Well, from the start, it is one of the cheapest EVs on the market ($4,200!!!), and yet, it’s not all that bad, as the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture model can seat 4 people (or 3 people and a bit of cargo, or 2 with a fair amount of cargo – 741 liters) in car that is a tad larger (2,917 mm / 114.8 in) than a Smart Fortwo EV. Sure, range is not brilliant (the small-battery version has a 9.2 kWh battery, while the top-spec version has a 13.8 kWh battery), nor is the motor (27hp), but it has only 665 kg curb weight to carry around and is highway capable, so in order to have the $4,200 price (without subsidies), one can’t expect miracles!
At this price level, the Wuling EV is in position to be a disruptive force in urban mobility, not only against 4-wheeled private transportation, but also against 2 and 3-wheelers. I mean, for $4,200, one can have an electric four-seat vehicle with a ceiling to protect you in rainy days! This Wuling EV could be a game changer for many, and in the overall EV market, it can beat the best and brightest in sales volumes.
#3 — GAC Aion S
GAC’s sleek sedan was 3rd in July, having registered 3,685 units (excluding the Toyota-badged iA5 units). We can now start to see the sleek sedan’s cruising speed (+/- 3,500 units/month), while GAC has its attention drawn to the Aion S’s new crossover sibling, the Aion V (1,069 units last month). One of the most competitive domestic electric sedans on the market, the Aion S should continue to be a regular in this top 5, being a strong candidate for a 2020 medal.
#4 — SAIC Baojun E-Series
Baojun works as the more upmarket and hip version of Wuling, and thanks to its E-Series (E100/200/300) lineup of city EVs, the SGMW (SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture) offspring has seen its EV sales jump in the past few months, winning a #4 spot in July thanks to 3,416 units last month. The access to the current subsidy, added to competitive pricing before subsidies (CNY 93,900 / $14,700), makes it an appealing model for young urban dwellers, as well as carsharing companies and other kinds of fleets.
#5 — BYD Qin Pro EV
The major automaker’s reply to the GAC Aion S and Xpeng P7 reached 3,400 units in July, so BYD’s bet on its electric sedan to stay among the best sellers is working. However, demand could end up being an issue soon, not only because of the ever increasing competition from other automakers, but also because of the internal competition of the new Han full size car, an appealing and technologically advanced model that might pull away some buyers from its smaller sibling.
Looking at the 2020 ranking, the podium positions remained the same. The Tesla Model 3 is far in the lead, while the rise of the Baojun E-Series continued, climbing now to the #4 position while surpassing the BMW 530Le.
This move highlights the latest trend: City EVs are returning to the spotlight, not only with the Baojun E-Series, but also with the Greal Wall Ora R1, now called the Great Wall Ora Black Cat, which scored 2,771 units in July, its best result in over a year, and now making it 3 small BEVs in the top 9.
And another micro EV is getting there too, as the previously mentioned Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV joined the table in #13 and should soon be headed to the runner-up spot, as only the leader Tesla Model 3 is too far away (50,000 units away, to be more precise) to be bothered by it.
And it wasn’t only with the SGMW minions that Shanghai Auto had reasons to smile, as its MG ZS EV was also up, in this case to #16. Meanwhile, NIO saw its ES6 best seller climb to #6.
BYD also had a somewhat positive month, with the e2 compact hatchback hitting a year best 1,534 units, while the #19 Tang PHEV also reached a year best (1,305 units) and the Song Pro EV hit a record 1,198 units, while its PHEV sibling had a year-best of 1,102 units.
Finally, BYD celebrated the landing of its Han EV flagship sedan (above), with the first 1,205 units registered.
Below the top 20, a reference is due for the ramp-up mode Xpeng P7 (1,725 units in July), the 1,269 units of the Volkswagen e-Bora, while the NIO barge flagship SUV, the ES8, scored 963 registrations last month, mostly thanks to the new 100 kWh version, which raises the question: Why isn’t Tesla making the Model S & X in China?!?
While the Model 3 only found its true potential in China once it started to be produced locally, the same can happen to both of the top-of-the-range Teslas, even leaving plugin hybrid models out of the equation, like the #5 BMW 530Le or the #10 Li Xiang One. The fact is that both Teslas are being trounced in China, the Model X is the only of the two that is being delivered in significant volumes, and yet, it has only made 2,010 registrations this year, well below the 3,381 of the NIO ES8. Last month, the recently landed Audi e-tron, still being imported from Belgium, outsold it on a 3-to-1 basis. The picture for the Model S is even darker — its two digit performances mean that it is being outsold by the recently landed Porsche Taycan, and a certain BYD Han EV that landed last month with 1,205 units! 1,205!!!
“Yeah, but the volumes for the full size segments do not justify the hassle for local manufacturing…” – some might say.
That is true for the USA or Europe, but not in China, where big cars still sell well. Just to give you context, the locally made Mercedes E-Class (88,647 units this year) is selling at the same pace as the locally made Mercedes C-Class (87,903), so if Tesla could sell as much Model S as it is doing Model 3s in China, that would be an additional 100,000 units in volume! For one model, in one market!
Looking at the manufacturer ranking, the market is becoming ever more fragmented, with BYD (15%, down 1 point) still in a leadership position, but slowly losing charge, with Tesla (13%, down 1 point) in 2nd.
SAIC (12%, up 2%) is 3rd. Although, I should say, SAIC+SGMW are in the 3rd spot, because if we remove the joint-venture, small-EV models from the SAIC rally, the Shanghai automaker would have only 6% share, same as the SAIC-GM-Wuling conglomerate. Technicalities, technicalities … SAIC could just make the whole thing simpler and buy the rest of the joint-venture. Better yet, SAIC. Just buy Wuling and the whole General Motors outright!…
Below the podium, Volkswagen (6%, down 1 point) is holding onto #4, with GAC (6%) — very we closing in, while BAIC and BMW are both down to 4%, with NIO also sitting 4%, waiting for a chance to climb higher.”
Cool Kids — This month we have Buick going all out, with the arrival of the PHEV version of the Buick Velite 6, with a decent 541 units sold, and the new Velite 7 compact crossover (439 units). Great Wall started to sell the Ora R2/White Cat, a funky small hatchback which registered its first 277 units, and Citroen (yes, it is still in China) started to deliver its C5 Aircross PHEV SUV, with a measly 36 deliveries, which says a lot about its ambitions. But the significant landing in July was the…
BYD Han EV — The long rumored flagship model from BYD has finally landed, in the form of a big (think Model S size) sedan. Beyond its appealing design, inside and out, it easily beats every other BYD in that regard (as a flagship should).
The first version landing was the much talked about BEV version (a PHEV version will follow later) that introduces the LFP “blade battery” to the market, which takes us less space than a regular LFP battery while keeping all the benefits of it (low battery degradation, lower cost, safety, etc.). As such, its 77 kWh battery allows a 605 km/376 mile NEDC electric range (think 450 km / 280 mi real-world range), and an especially killer price: It starts at RMB 229,800, or $32,800, meaning its cheaper than the cheapest Tesla.
And remember, it is Model S sized … and for performance addicts, the AWD version has 487 hp, doing 0–100 km/h (or 0–62 mph) in 3.9 seconds, for just RMB279,500 ($40,000)! So, with a great design and excellent value for money, the top-of-the-range BYD is sure to be a success. With the brand already used to making EVs in large volumes, ramping up production shouldn’t pose a problem, as the 1,205 units in the landing month can attest. How high can the Han go?
With some 30,000 reservations in waiting, volumes will be high, at least in the beginning, I would say 3,000 per month would already leave BYD happy, as it would mean the company is creating leadership in the full-size vehicle category. But at those prices, there could be demand levels for higher still, maybe even becoming BYD’s best seller, at 4,000—5,000 units per month.