After the December plugin vehicle sales peak in China, one would expect a sales hangover in January, only … it didn’t happen. The market had some 173,000 passenger new energy vehicles (NEV) registered, an impressive 223% jump year over year (YoY), and the highest growth rate this market has seen in 3 years!
Of course, January 2020 was impacted by the Chinese New Year holidays and the covid pandemic, but still, even comparing with the remaining months of 2020, January 2021 outsold every other month of last year with the exception of November and December, usually the two strongest months in this market.
As a consequence of this, the PEV share started the year at a high of 8.4% (7% BEV), already a step above the 6.3% of 2020, so unless the local government decides to remove the subsidies for this booming market, we might see it reach two-digit shares already this year! And with the much awaited Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4 right around the corner, I wouldn’t even rule out record months in the first half of this year.
In January, plug-in hybrid growth (+94% YoY) was outshined by the growth of pure electric models (+276%!), allowing BEVs to tighten their hold on the market. They represented 83% of sales, up 3% compared to 2020 and 12% compared to the same month last year.
Illustrating the current trends of the Chinese EV market, in last month’s top 5, we have one full size sedan (BYD Han EV), two midsize sedans (Tesla Model 3 and GAC Aion S), one small four-seater (Ora Black Cat), and the leader, the incredibly tiny 4-seat Wuling Mini EV.
Here are January’s top 5 best selling models:
#1 — Wuling Mini EV
This model was something of a shot in a dark for the SGMW joint-venture, as until this model launch, city EVs depended heavily on accessing subsidies to be successful. The bet has paid off, though, as the nameplate became an instant success. While it was initially intended as a credit enhancer, allowing Wuling to counter balance its ICE offerings, if sales continue rising like they have been so far, the tiny vehicle might even reach the break-even point by the end of this year and actually make a profit in future years! In January, the model hit 36,762 registrations, its 7th record in a row. Turning cheap city EVs into a profitable business has been an elusive target for everyone in the EV business. It seems SGMW is the only one close to getting there.
#2 — Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility had 13,843 deliveries in January, and while this isn’t the disruptive result that many would expect from Tesla’s sports sedan, let’s remember that local production is now being exported to other markets (whether that was intended from the start because of cheaper production costs or it’s a way to compensate for lower than expected demand in China is another discussion). Note that the midsizer now has internal competition — the Model Y. Nonetheless, expect the Model 3 to continue cruising at around 15,000–20,000 units per month.
#3 — BYD Han EV
The rise and rise of BYD’s luxury sedan in China is impressive in more than one way. First, there’s the steady increase in demand, with the big BYD scoring its 6th record result in a row thanks to 9,298 registrations in January. Second, the full-size sedan is competing for the top positions with models that sit lower in the food chain. The 2nd best selling full-size model (the Li Xiang One) had almost half of the Han’s sales. Winning its first podium position last month, the current poster boy for BYD continues to thrive, and if we were to add the PHEV version to its tally, we would have over 12,000 units, which is getting mighty close to the #2 Tesla Model 3. Now I ain’t sayin’ it’s a Tesla killa, but no one’s messing with this fella.…
#4 — GAC Aion S
Things continue to go well for the Aion S, with the sleek sedan securing another top 5 presence thanks to 6,092 registrations, its best result in over a year. But before the GAC fans out there (“Everybody from Guangzhou, put your hands up, put your hands up…”) say that the S sedan is just the start and the upcoming Y people mover will be another resounding success, let’s remember that the other Aion launches following the S landing have either bombed (the LX midsize SUV is selling in two digits) or have had “meh” results (the V compact crossover is selling at a third of the volume as the S sedan).
#5 — Great Wall Ora Black Cat
The Chinese moniker from Great Wall had 6,090 units delivered last month, confirming its role as the bread and butter model for the brand, at least until the other cats (the White and the Good) complete their production ramp ups, which in the case of the White Cat is already allowing the small people mover to join the top 20 table, in #17.
Outside the top 5, we have several models shining. The local EV startups are performing well, with 8(!) representatives in the top 20. The Li Xiang One full size SUV leads the pack in 7th, with 5,379 registrations, with the model being the SUV category leader and also #1 in the PHEV race. Xpeng, meanwhile, placed both of its models on the table, with the P7 sedan in #10, with a record 3,710 deliveries, and the G3 crossover in #16. NIO did even better, placing all 3 of its models on the table — the EC6 crossover in #12 (with a record 2,845 registrations), the ES6 SUV in #14, and even the full-fat ES8 barge joining the table in #20. Besides these, the small crossover Neta V from Hozon joined the top 20, in #18 with 2,076 registrations, its 3rd record in a row, and the Weltmeister EX5 compact crossover was #19.
But this wasn’t only about startups. Others also had reasons to smile, especially SAIC. On top of strong performances across its long lineup, two models have joined the table with record performances — the Roewe eRX5 PHEV compact SUV was #9 with a record 3,779 registrations, while its own iteration of a city EV, the Roewe Clever EV, jumped to #8 thanks to a record 5,172 registrations. (Could this jump in Clever EV production possibly be related to the sudden disappearance of the Baojun E-Series from the table? Hmmm….)
Another small EV climbing to stardom is the new-generation Changan Benni EV, which joined the table in #11 with a record 3,240 registrations. On the other side of the spectrum, the BMW 530Le had its best result since June, with 2,516 registrations, allowing it to start the year in #15 — making it only the second foreign moniker in the table.
Outside the top 20, a mention goes out to another Chinese startup, with Leap Motor. It got its small T03 EV close to the table, with 1,476 units, while Buick had its Velite 6 PHEV station wagon score a record 1,632 registrations. And we can now celebrate the landing of the Tesla Model Y, which had 1,641 registrations in January.
Looking at the manufacturer ranking, things started this year how they ended the previous, with the SGMW joint venture hovering above anyone else, with an amazing 23% share, followed by a distant BYD, with 12% share, while the 3rd spot is being hardly fought by Tesla and SAIC, both with 9% — technically, the Californian is currently ahead by 600 units.
A couple of steps below, we find #5 Great Wall, with 6% share thanks to its cat pack, followed by GAC (4%), which is holding onto the 6th position and fending off NIO (also 4%) by just 100 units.
Looking at the OEM level, SAIC’s domination is unquestionable, with the Shanghai automaker now having 32% of the market, a truly astounding number in such a fragmented and competitive market.
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