The Rise & Rise of the Chinese EV Market — 17% Market Share in January

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After the December sales peak, one would expect a sales hangover in January, only … it didn’t happened, as the market had some 372,000 passenger new energy vehicle registrations, an impressive 115% jump year over year (YoY)!

As a consequence of this, the plugin vehicle (PEV) share started the year at a high 17% (13% BEV), already a step above of the 15% of 2021, so unless something unexpected happens, we might see it surpass 20% market share this year!

In January, pure electric models (which only grew 98% YoY) lost some of their dominating position in the market, as they represented 77% of sales, down 6 percentage points compared to the sale period in 2021.

Illustrating the current trends of the Chinese EV market, in last month’s top 5 we have the small 4-seat Wuling Mini EV on top, followed by two BYDs, followed by the Tesla Model Y and the large Li Xiang One in 5th.

Here’s a closer look at 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, but it has paid off, as the nameplate became an instant success. While it was initially intended as a credit enhancer, allowing them to counter balance their ICE offerings, its sales have made it a market disruptor, revolutionising the city car category. In January, it hit 26,682 units, a significant 10,000 unit drop from what it had 12 months ago, but still enough to end the month in #1. Will the competition copycat models (*ahem* Chery QQ Ice Cream *ahem*) steal the little model’s thunder? At this point, we can only speculate, but it seems SGMW has been the only one to make cheap city EVs a profitable business, something that has been an elusive target for everyone in the EV business.

#2 — BYD Qin Plus PHEV

The rise and rise of BYD’s bread and butter sedan in China is impressive in more than one way, with the midsizer scoring another record performance, 18,449 units. The current poster-boy for BYD continues to thrive, and if we were to add the BEV version to its tally (#13 — 7,086 units), we would have over 25,000 units. That is almost double the Tesla Model 3 average in the last quarter (13,000 units/month) and allows it to race at the same pace that the Tesla Model Y did in the last three months of last year. … Not bad, eh?

#3 — BYD Song Pro/Plus PHEV

While the behaviour of the BYD Qin is impressive, its SUV counterpart is no less awesome, with the added bonus that the production ramp-up still seems to have no end in sight. The Song PHEV scored 16,411 units last month, a new record, and if we were to add the BEV version to its tally (4,311 units), we would have over 20,000 units, 2,000 units above its average in Q4 2021. Despite still being far from the 25,000 unit average of the last months of 2021 that the #2 Tesla Model Y scored, I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the future it managed to surpass Tesla’s current star player. Now, I ain’t sayin’ it’s a Tesla killa, but no one’s messing with this fella….

#4 — Tesla Model Y

The poster-child for electric mobility delivered 16,358 units in January, and while this isn’t the disruptive result that many would expect from Tesla’s crossover, let’s remember that part of the local production is now being exported to other markets and the midsizer is expected to peak in March, possibly to a 40,000-plus result, which would place it in the top spots of the overall market.

#5 — Li Xiang One

Things continue to go well for the startup model, with the tank SUV securing another top 5 presence, thanks to 12,268 units. An even larger model (think Mercedes GLS-sized) is set to be launched this year, and the company has ambitious targets for 2023. Thanks to a new plant in Beijing capacity to 700,000 units/year and two new smaller BEV models set to arrive that year, the startup company is set to become a million units/company by 2024, making it one of the most successful Chinese EV startups even though it’s a lesser known one compared to the more media-friendly XPeng or NIO.

Outside the top 5, we have several models shining, with four models scoring record results in the first month of the year. That includes the Chery Ice Cream, a Wuling Mini lookalike, that is in the middle of its ramp-up process. It scored 9,984 registrations last month. How high will the little four-seater go — 20,000 units per month? More?

BYD also has two models in ramp-up mode, with the #6 Dolphin scoring 10,602 registrations, so it shouldn’t be long for the smallest of the BYD lineup to reach its midsize siblings’ sales levels. At the other tip of the BYD lineup, the refreshed BYD Tang PHEV scored another best ever performance, 8,947 registrations, contributing to the Shenzhen automaker having seven models in the top 20.

Finally, GAC’s Aion Y compact MPV also had a record score, 6,415 registrations, allowing it to be#18 in the table and giving hope to those who believe that MPVs will one day rise again and the end SUV fever

Outside the top 20, a mention goes out to the 5,247 NIO ES6 SUVs registered in January. We also celebrate the landing of the BYD Yuan Plus, the crossover sibling of the Dolphin, which had 2,000 registrations in January — no doubt a good start for BYD’s new baby. Much is expected from the compact crossover, and not only domestically. It seems 20,000 units/month is a strong possibility domestically. In overseas markets, BYD is betting heavily on both the Dolphin and the Yuan Plus to become BYD’s own ID.3/ID.4 dynamic duo in markets like Australia or Norway.

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, things started this year how they ended the previous, with BYD hovering above everyone else with an amazing 24.9% share. It was followed by a distant SGMW in 2nd with 8.5% share, while the 3rd spot is still pretty much open, with the following results in January: Chery (5.3%), Tesla (5.2%), SAIC (4.5%), and GAC (4.3%). Expect Tesla to jump ahead thanks to an expected end-of-quarter peak in March.

Looking at the OEM level, things closely mirror the brand ranking. BYD is comfortable in #1, with 24.9% share, followed by SAIC (13%), then Chery (5.4%). Those three are followed closely by Tesla (5.2%) and Geely–Volvo (5%). The latter is finally recovering its status as a leading Chinese OEM, which means that Tesla might have to compete against it (and its 123 brands) in order to keep the bronze medal it earned last year.

A little behind the race for the last place on the podium, we have #6 GAC (4.5%) and #7 Volkswagen Group (4.1%), wrapping up the group of OEMs who got more than 4% share of the plugin vehicle market.

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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 446 posts and counting. See all posts by José Pontes