The Rise & Rise Of The Chinese EV Market — 17% Market Share In January

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After the December sales peak, a covid surge, the end of EV subsidies on January 1st, and the Lunar New Year celebrations (this time happening in January), one would expect a sales hangover in January, and this time … it did happen. The market dropped by 8% YoY, to some 343,000 passenger new energy vehicle registrations.

But because many ICE models also saw their prices increase, due to fiscal changes, the overall market fell even harder, by over 30% YoY to around 1.3 million units. This allowed the plugin vehicle (PEV) share to start the year at a high 26% (17% BEV). Although this score is below the final 2022 result of 30% PEV share (22% BEV), expect that mark to be achieved sometime in the summer, and the year to end at 35%+ share.

In January, pure electric models (which were down a worrying 24% YoY) lost some of their dominating position in the market, as they represented just 64% of sales, down 13 percentage points compared to the same period in 2022.

Illustrating the current trends of the Chinese EV market, in last month’s top 5, we have 3 BYDs, the small 4-seat Wuling Mini EV, and then the Tesla Model Y.

Here’s a closer look at January’s top 5 best selling models:

#1 — BYD Song (BEV+PHEV)

The rise and rise of BYD’s bread and butter model has finally stopped, with the midsizer already regularly touching the ceiling (as in, the #1 spot in the overall ranking) in the past few months. This day was bound to happen…. Still, with 42,684 units from the PHEV version and 7,181 units from the BEV side, BYD can’t really complain, can it? Will it win the best seller trophy in the overall Chinese auto market this year? Maybe, but the competition, both internal (Frigate 07 and upcoming Sea Lion) and external is fierce, so one can expect a lot of surprises throughout the year.

#2 — BYD Yuan Plus / Atto 3 

While the behaviour of the BYD Song is impressive, its smaller sibling is no less awesome, with the added bonus that the production ramp-up might not have ended yet, depending on how the model behaves in export markets. The compact crossover scored 18,142 registrations last month, and expect it to return soon to some 20,000 units/month-plus performances. It could even get to around 25,000 units on average. Although, the Yuan’s (aka Atto 3 in many overseas markets) main mission is to become the make’s star player in export markets.

#3 — BYD Dolphin

Things continue to go well for the hatchback model, with the small EV securing another top 5 presence thanks to 17,289 registrations. Expect it to ramp up deliveries soon, to over 20,000 units/month, and like the Yuan, cruise most of the year at around 25,000 units each month. The difference between the sales volumes of the two models, the Yuan and Dolphin, will be more accentuated in overseas markets, as the Dolphin is not expected to sell as much as the Yuan, especially outside Asia.

#4 — Wuling Mini EV 

This model was something of a shot in the dark for the SGMW joint venture, but the nameplate became an instant success. While it was initially intended as a credit enhancer, allowing SGMW to counter-balance its ICE offerings, its sales have made it a market disruptor, revolutionising the city car category. The competition are now creating copycats Wuling Mini-type vehicles. In January, it hit 16,416 registrations, a significant drop from recent months. Is the competition stealing the little model’s thunder? At this point, we can only speculate, but it seems that SGMW will have to give larger pieces of the pie it invented to its competitors.

#5 — Tesla Model Y

The poster-child for electric mobility got 14,184 deliveries in January, and while this isn’t the disruptive result that many would expect from Tesla’s crossover, let’s remember that the price discount will start to make an effect in the coming months, with the midsizer expected to peak in March, possibly to a 40,000+ result, which would place it in the top spots of the overall market.

Outside the top 5, we have a few surprises, like the Tesla Model 3 showing up in 6th, with a strong 12,569 registrations. It was immediately followed by 3 BYD models, thus making it 6 BYDs in the top 9 positions, and 9 in the top 20 (or 10 if we consider that the #12 Denza D9 is part of BYD Group). Speaking of Denza’s big MPV, the ramp-up continues, with the 6,438 registrations of January no doubt just a stepping stone towards a 10,000 units per month cruising speed.

Still on the topic of full size yachts models, Li Auto placed the Cadillac Escalade-like L9 in #10 with 7,996 registrations, while the slightly smaller (but still full size) L8 ended in #13 with 6,099 registrations. With 40 kWh batteries and range extenders, these two models give an idea of what would have happened if GM had decided to continue developing the Volt powertrain and placing it in the group’s full size models. But I digress.

NIO is back in the table, thanks to the production ramp-up of the ET5 sedan. The midsizer provided critical volume to a brand in real need of scaling up its operations.

Finally, GAC’s Aion S sedan was #15 and the Y compact crossover-MPV was #18 in the table. Changan had another strong month, with the brand placing the Lumin in #19, the Benni EV in #20, and the Shenlan SL03 in #21. The maker also celebrated a great landing of the UNI-V PHEV, with the striking sedan getting 1,984 registrations in its first month on the market.

Outside the top 20, a mention goes out to the 3,170 Smart#1 registered in January. We can also celebrate the good results coming from the BMW stable, with the iX3 SUV getting 2,263 registrations and the i3 (not the funky small hatchback, but the China-only 3-Series BEV version) scoring 3,624 registrations, allowing the sedan to beat the VW ID.4 and become the best selling non-Tesla foreigner.

Jeez, Volkswagen. Even BMW is beating you in China…. 😮

Looking at the manufacturer ranking, things started this year how they ended the previous, with BYD hovering above everyone else with an amazing 40.2% share. It was followed by a distant Tesla, in 2nd with 7.8% share, while the 3rd spot is still pretty much open, with the following results in January: Changan (5.5%), SGMW (5.1%), and Li Auto (4.5%).

Interestingly, the best legacy foreign brand this time is not Volkswagen, but BMW, in 9th with 2.2% share.

Again: Jeez, Volkswagen. Even BMW is beating you in China…. 😮

Looking at the OEM level, things closely mirror the brand ranking. BYD is comfortable in #1, with 42.1% share, which is almost mirroring Tesla’s domination in the USA, followed by the previously mentioned Tesla (7.8%) and then SAIC (7.1%).

Changan (5.9%) is 4th, followed by Li Auto (4.5%), with the startup’s result being even more impressive when we consider that it only has full size models on its lineup….

Outside the top 3, we have Geely–Volvo (4.2%) in 6th, followed at some distance by the #7 GAC.

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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.

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