While the overall Chinese auto market ended the year on a positive note (+12% YoY), plugins ended with a record month, growing by 50% YoY in in the last month of the year to a record 224,000 units, and this time it was plugin hybrids (PHEVs) that grew faster (+108%) than full electrics (+42%). Despite this recent uptick from plugin hybrids, full electrics (BEVs) ended up owning 80% of the market, which, incidentally, was the same score as 2019. So, it seems plugin hybrids have found their corner of the market, especially in higher end models.
Last month, plugin share reached a record 9.4% (7% BEV), pulling the 2020 share to 6.3% (5.1% BEV), almost a one percent increase over the 2019 result of 5.5%, and the same result the market had at the time of the last subsidy change, in the summer of 2019, so one can say that the Chinese EV market took 18 months to recover from the impact of the subsidy change.
But looking at the bright side, the only way is up. With only minor subsidy changes happening in the foreseeable future, next year we should see the market reach a few months with double-digit EV market share, preparing for disruption to finally set in by 2022 … in the largest automotive market in the world.
And once we get to that point, then it’s game over for ICE (internal combustion engines).
Looking at December best sellers, we have 3 city EVs, confirming the return of small EVs to the spotlight, with the Wuling EV keeping its best seller status.
#1 – Wuling HongGuang Mini EV
A big name for a small car, the Wuling EV scored 33,489 registrations last month, its 6th record score in a row, but the difference compared to previous months wasn’t significant, so it seems the production ramp-up (or is it demand?) has already peaked. Nonetheless, expect the tiny four-seater to continue in podium positions throughout 2021, as it is one of the cheapest EVs on the market ($4,200!!!) and yet not that bad. The SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture model can seat 4 people and is a tad larger (2,917 mm / 114.8 in) than a Smart Fortwo EV. At this price level, the Wuling EV is a disruptive force in urban mobility, not only against 4-wheeled private transportation, but also against 2- and 3-wheelers. This EV is becoming a game changer in China, and should do the same elsewhere if it manages to expand to overseas markets.
#2 – Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility hit a record 23,804 registrations last month, which was somewhat less than expected, but then again, the shadow of its younger sibling, the Model Y, set to land in January could be the reason for this. Looking toward 2021, expect the Model 3 to remain more or less in line with current numbers, because the bulk of growth in 2021 should come from the new Made-in-China (MiC) Model Y.
#3 – Great Wall ORA Black Cat (R1)
Probably inspired by Deng Xiaoping’s famous quote, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice,” Great Wall decided to create a 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, and to lead the Cat Pack, Great Wall has just successfully launched (2,016 registrations in its landing month) 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 will have plenty of time to talk about it in 2021. We are here to celebrate the Black Cat, which delivered 10,010 units in December, it’s 3rd record score in a row, creating great prospects for the Cat Pack in 2021.
#4 – BYD Han EV
BYD’s flagship model continues to grow, having gotten 9,007 registrations in December, its 5th record performance in a row. So, it looks the production ramp-up is still developing. One of the most competitive domestic EVs on the market, the flagship BYD is becoming a regular in this top 5, thanks to competitive pricing. It’s the size of a Model S and yet it costs only $32,800, less than the cheaper Model 3. But price doesn’t tell the whole story, with a cutting edge 77 kWh LFP battery allowing it to reach 605 km (376 miles) of range according to the NEDC test cycle (think 400 km / 250 miles in the real world), the Han EV is the whole package. It has good looks, competitive specs and features, and killer prices. Oh, and if we were to add the 3,082 units of the PHEV version, then the Han would have been 3rd, with 11,483 registrations. Not bad for a flagship model, right?
#5 – SAIC Baojun E-Series
Compared with the bare basics Wuling EV, the Baojun E-Series (E100/200/300) includes the SGMW’s more hip and upmarket city models, with demand hitting record levels. There were 8,992 units delivered in December. Access to the current subsidy, added to competitive pricing (CNY 93,900 / $14,700 before subsidies), makes the E-Series appealing for young urban drivers as well as carsharing companies and other fleet owners.
Looking at the rest of the best sellers table in December, a record month, several models hit best ever scores — like the Chery eQ, with 7,074 registrations, or the Li Xiang One, which was last month’s best selling PHEV thanks to 6,126 registrations. The Li Xiang One also consolidated its status as the best selling SUV and the most successful model coming from a local EV startup.
Speaking of local startups, there were several models in this category that were shining last month. Besides the aforementioned Li Xiang, Xpeng also had a record month, with its P7 sedan hitting a record 3,691 deliveries thanks to the continuing production ramp-up. Meanwhile, the older G3 crossover had 2,618 registrations, its best score in 18 months. Leap Motor saw its small T03 reach a record 2,983 registrations, while the much hyped NIO saw its new baby, the EC6 sports SUV, become the brand’s best selling model in December, with 2,505 registrations.
A reference also goes out to the surprise appearance of VW’s Tiguan PHEV, in #16, with the compact SUV scoring a record performance of 2,645 registrations, and to the Changan Benni EV, which profited from a recent restyling to show up in #18, with 2,610 registrations, the hatchback’s best score since 2017.
Outside the top 20, a reference goes out to the #21 Geely Emgrand EV, which had 2,503 registrations in December, the sedan’s best performance in 18 months. So, Geely’s bread and butter model might be headed for a (much needed) revival in 2021. Furthermore, NIO’s flagship model, the ES8 full size SUV, had its best score in 2 years, delivering 2,009 units.
Looking at the 2020 ranking, the Model 3 is the 2020 best seller, with a commanding 20,000 unit lead over the runner-up, but below it, the #2 Wuling Mini EV is already preparing next year’s assault and ambition to become the best selling EV in China — the tiny EV won all monthly trophies since September. In 3rd we have another SGMW model, the Baojun E-Series, which surpassed GAC’s Aion S in the last stage of the race and secured another medal for the joint venture.
This highlights the latest trend in China — city EVs are returning to the spotlight, not only with the SGMW EVs, but with others also earning the spotlight. That includes the Great Wall Ora Black Cat, which ended the year in 4th (it had been #11 in the previous year), the Chery eQ ending in 7th and making it 4 city EVs in the top 7. Just counting these four models together, we get a quarter-million units, or 20% of the total EV market.
But it wasn’t only city EVs rising up the table. BYD had two models rise, with the Tang PHEV climbing to #15 while the Han EV jumped 3 spots to #9, becoming the second BYD on the top 10.
Speaking of the flagship BYD, I was going to add “Best Selling Full Size Model” to the Li Xiang One’s list of titles (Best Selling PHEV and Best Selling SUV being the others), but the truth is that if we add both of the BYD Han versions (BEV and PHEV), we get almost 41,000 units for the big sedan, so I believe it’s best to split the title between the two. And 41,000 units for a full size model model that only started halfway through the year is truly amazing, especially if we consider that the global category leader was the Audi e-tron, which ended the year with 47,000 deliveries.
With this in mind, I believe the 2021 Full Size Best Selling EV in the World will probably be the BYD Han.
Xpeng also had reasons to celebrate, as the much hyped P7 ended the year in #19, making it the 4th local startup model on the table, another significant change compared to 2019. In fact, in 2019 there were none, and the Tesla Model 3 was only #8 — imagine that.
Looking at the manufacturer ranking, the “Surprise of the Year” was the SGMW joint venture (15%) breaking BYD’s 6 year winning streak (14%, down 1 percentage point), thus becoming the 2020 Best Selling Manufacturer. Tesla (11%, down 1 percentage point) secured the last place on the podium.
Interestingly, in 2019, SGMW ended with just 5% share and Tesla with 3%.
Below the podium, SAIC (7%, up 1 percentage point) won the 4th spot with some ease, overcoming #5 GAC, #6 Volkswagen, and #7 Great Wall, each with 5% share.
As for BAIC, 2020 was a true horror movie, falling from 2nd place and 14% share in 2019 to just 2% share this year!
By automotive group, the big winner was Shanghai Auto, or SAIC. Thanks to the SGMW joint venture, which it has a majority stake in (50.1%), and its own sales, it had 22% of the market all to itself, a jump from the 12% of 2019. BYD (15%) followed, and then Tesla (11%) and Volkswagen Group (6%).
Expect these last two to increase their share in 2021, thanks to the Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4 launch.
So, long story short, in 2020, there were three main stories in the Chinese EV market:
- The Tesla Model 3 became the Best Selling EV, the first time a foreigner achieved this feat.
- Local startups, led by NIO, grew fast and are already starting to show up on the radar. Their next step is to gain scale quickly in order to get to six-digit annual sales numbers, thus securing their survival among the big sharks.
- City EVs returned to the spotlight, proving that Chinese OEMs are in a unique position to dominate that vehicle category (and future autonomous pods?). In that context, SAIC was the biggest gainer of the year, even managing to steal Tesla’s thunder towards the end of the year (but don’t tell that to Wall Street…).
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