Tesla Model 3 & Wuling Mini EV Shine In Growing Chinese EV Market

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The overall Chinese auto market remained in positive numbers last month, +6% year over year (YoY), with plugins faring even better, growing 30% YoY last month to 100,000 units, a new year best. Fully electric vehicles (BEVs) grew slightly faster (+31%) than plugin hybrids (+27%), allowing pure electrics to have 81% of plugin sales last month, slightly above of this year’s average of 79%.

August was the best selling month this year, and it shows, as last month’s plugin share reached 5.7% (4.6% BEV), pulling the 2020 share to 5% (3.9% BEV). That is still below the 5.5% of 2019, but it is a step in the right direction and hopefully it will reach last year’s score towards the end of the year.

Looking at August best sellers, we have two midsize sedans ( #1 Tesla Model 3, #3 GAC Aion S) and three “city EVs,” confirming the return of small EVs to the spotlight.

#1 — Tesla Model 3

The poster child for electric mobility hit 11,811 units last month, and while that’s not its all time best, Tesla’s midsizer continues firmly above the 10,000 mark. The Model 3 is starting to get in the way of the category’s best sellers in the overall market, as the Californian was not that far off from the BMW 3 Series (16,919 units), Mercedes C-Class (14,249), and Audi A4 (13,053), 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…

#2 — Wuling HongGuang Mini EV

A big name for such a small car, the Wuling EV scored 9,150 units last month, thanks to a steep production ramp up, so expect the tiny four-seater to hit five-digit performances soon. Why the reason for the overnight success? Well, to start, it is one of the cheapest EVs on the market ($4,200!!!), and yet, it’s not all that bad. The SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture’s 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 smaller battery version has a 9.2 kWh battery, the top spec version has a 13.8 kWh battery), and neither is the motor (27 hp), but the car has only 665 kg curb weight to carry around and is highway capable. 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. This EV could be a game changer for many, and not only in China.

#3 — GAC Aion S

GAC’s sleek sedan was 3rd in August, having registered 4,071 units (excluding the 665 Toyota-badged iA5 units), a new year best, so it seems the Aion S has found a way to balance the impact of its crossover sibling, the new Aion V (2,086 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 and is a strong candidate for the 2020 medal positions.

#4 — Great Wall ORA Black Cat (R1)

A few decades ago, Hollywood had the Rat Pack, and maybe inspired by it, Great Wall decided to create its own Cat Pack, transforming its tiny R1 Smart-lookalike into the Black Cat, launching the R2 model (think Scion XB/Toyota Urban Cruiser kind of vehicle) as the White Cat, which delivered 1,035 units last month, and to lead the Cat Pack, Great Wall is now preparing the launch of the Good Cat, a chunky (and funky) compact hatchback (VW Golf sized) that kinda looks like a Porsche 356 in the front, a Toyota from the side, and the back … well, it’s its own thing. But enough about the Good Cat, we are here to talk about the Black Cat, which delivered 3,748 units in August, the city EV’s best score since the new subsidy rules were enacted, more than a year ago. Does this mean the new name will give a second youth to the Ora model? To be answered in the next few months. …

#5 — SAIC Baojun E-Series

Baojun works as the more hip and upmarket version of the Wuling EV, and thanks to its E-Series (E100/200/300) lineup of city EVs, the SGMW (SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture) offspring has seen demand stay high during recent months, winning a 5th spot in August thanks to 3,312 registrations. Access to the current subsidy, added to competitive pricing before subsidies (CNY 93,900 / $14,700), makes it an appealing model for young urban drivers, as well as carsharing companies and other kinds of fleets.

Looking at the 2020 ranking, if the Model 3 is the undisputed leader, below it, everything is up for discussion, with the #3 GAC Aion S shortening the distance to fewer than 1,000 units to the 2nd placed BYD Qin Pro EV, but both should be surpassed in a couple of months by a rising star …

… the Wuling Mini EV. After joining the table in July at #13, last month the Wuling model jumped 7 spots, to #6, and it should reach 4th place in September, only to surpass the aforementioned two by October.

This move highlights the latest trend: city EVs are returning to the spotlight, not only with the Wuling EV, but also the Baojun E-Series, the Great Wall Ora Black Cat (climbing to #8), and the #9 Chery eQ, which had 3,307 registrations, its best score in over a year.

But it wasn’t only city EVs shining, as the MG ZS EV was also up, to #15, while BYD saw two of its models climb. The Tang PHEV climbed two positions, to #17, thanks to a year best performance of 1,525 registrations, while the Song Pro EV was up to #19, and despite staying in the same spot, the BYD e2 had a year best score of 1,557 units.

Highlighting BYD’s positive month, the Han siblings saw the benefits of the production ramp up, with the EV version scoring 2,700 units while the PHEV registered its first 1,300 units. If we to count both together, the full size BYD would feature in our monthly top 5.

A final mention is due for two startup EVs, with the #11 Li Xiang One full size SUV scoring a record 2,711 registrations, while the Weltmeister EX5 had its best performance this year, with 2,042 registrations.

Below the top 20, we had the ramp-up mode Xpeng P7 (1,996 registrations in August), 1,035 registrations of the Great Wall Ora R2 White Cat, 2,086 registrations of the crossover GAC Aion V, and 1,722 registrations of the Changan Eado EV, its best score this year.

NIO’s barge flagship SUV, the ES8, scored 1,125 registrations last month, its best score in 16 months, mostly thanks to the new 100 kWh version, which contrasts with last month’s paltry result for the Tesla Model X (112 registrations).

“Yeah, but August is not a peak month for Tesla.” True, but the top score for Tesla’s flagship SUV this year in China was 650 units, in March, which pales next to the Li Xiang One’s regular scores. The NIO ES8’s 4,506 deliveries this year are two times the score of the Model X. …

Currently, the Model S & X are weak points for Tesla in China, as they are being trailed by several opponents, be them startups (NIO, Li Xiang), local OEMs (BYD), or foreign ones (BMW, Porsche), which is a stark contrast with the current Model 3 domination of the midsize category.

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, BYD (15%) is still in the leadership, but #2 Tesla (13%) and especially rising #3 SAIC (13%, up 1 point) are looking to catch it soon.

SAIC is 3rd. Although, I should say that it’s more SAIC + SGMW, because if we remove the joint-venture small EV models from the SAIC tally, the Shanghai automaker would have only 6% share. Technicalities, technicalities. …

Below the podium, Volkswagen (6%) is holding onto #4 by just 2 units(!), with GAC (also 6%) looking forward to surpassing the German automaker in September, while NIO (4%) has surpassed BMW and is now #6. With #5 BAIC fewer than 300 units away, it is waiting for a chance to climb higher. Maybe in September?

Cool New Kids on the Block

Apart from a few badge engineering exercises, there was only one new EV landing, the … 

(BAIC) ArcFox Alpha-T — ArcFox started a few years ago as the Premium EV brand of Beijing Auto, which was supposed to have a wide range of models — from the small, sporty “1” to the Sports Exotica “9.” Unfortunately, only one of them reached production, in 2017, with the small “1” changing its name to “Lite.” After symbolic sales, with low two-digit monthly numbers since then, BAIC decided to invest once again into its premium brand, and this time with a proper-volume model, not some small two-seat sports model, as the Alpha-T is a sort of Tesla Model Y.

With input from the Canadian supplier Magna, the midsize crossover is not particularly fast — it has 218 hp to move it, but it does have a big 94 kWh battery, allowing a (somewhat average) 653 km (406 mi) NEDC range, which translates into some 500 km (313 mi) WLTP range. That, added to some Porsche-inspired design, makes it a compelling product.

Although, I have my doubts about it being the best seller that Beijing Auto hopes it to be. With prices (280,000 CNY / 35,000 EUR / 41,000 USD) in the vicinity of other midsize heavyweights (BYD Tang, GAC Aion LX) and even larger SUVs (Li Xiang One), it lacks a selling point, because it’s not as fast as the rocket-like BYD Tang, the Aion LX has the same 650 km NEDC range, and the Li Xiang One is much more spacious.

On the other hand, while the Alpha-T is not going to change the tide of the falling sales of BAIC’s electric operations, it is a good first step for the automaker in the “Tesla and the Disciples” new phase of the market. So, a top 20 position would already be a success for the Alpha-T. For Beijing Auto to recover the  best seller title (the EU-Series was previously the best-selling EV in China, and BAIC had 3 models in last year’s top 20), it will need not only a new generation of EVs, but also some really outstanding specs, to beat the current top dog Model 3. It will also need competitive pricing, because the Xpeng P7 has moved the goal posts when it comes to specs vs price ratio.

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José Pontes

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.

José Pontes has 466 posts and counting. See all posts by José Pontes