Best Selling Electric Cars In The World — January 2023

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The Tesla Model Y is #1 again in the electric vehicle market. Registrations were up 10% year over year (YoY) in January, to over 662,000 units. China’s market was the main driver of growth.

Share-wise, 2023 started with plugin vehicles getting 11% share of the global auto market (7.6% BEV). While this is below last year’s final mark of 14% (10% BEV), we should remember that this January is a hangover month in a number of markets, most notably in China, where EV subsidies ended at the end of December, but also in Germany, another major market, where BEV subsidies were reduced and PHEV subsidies were removed altogether. The global market kept on growing, thanks to markets like the USA (+118% YoY), Belgium (+75%), Japan (+104%!), India (+256%!!), and Australia (+352%!!!) being on the upswing. *Considering that pickup trucks are considered “passenger cars” in a number of countries, and electric pickups are reaching significant volumes, I have decided to include them for the global article tally.

There are signs that production constraints will ease throughout the year, so we could end this year at around 20% (15% BEV). That would put the global automotive market firmly in the Disruption Zone — in 2023!

Last month, BEVs grew by just 5% YoY, their lowest growth rate since the COVID-hit month of June 2020, while PHEVs were up by 21%, mostly thanks to the increasingly PHEV-friendly Chinese market. What happens in the Chinese market is always important globally — this market represented 52% of all global sales of electric cars in January. One should highlight that most plugin hybrids in China are a different beast compared to those in the rest of the world. In reality, most are range-extended vehicles, with large batteries sized between 30–40 kWh. They even typically include fast-charging capability.

Top selling electric vehicle cars in the world

The Model Y started the race right at #1, scoring its best result ever in the first month of a quarter. Is it heading for a record quarter by the end of March?

In the runner-up spot, we have the BYD Song, starting the year in the same place as it ended the previous one. But with internal competition heating up, namely with the introduction of the Frigate 07 PHEV and upcoming reveal of the Sea Lion BEV, one wonders if the Song will suffer the same destiny that its Qin Plus sedan sibling is suffering due to the introduction of the Destroyer 05 PHEV and Seal BEV models (it’s down 5 spots compared to the same month last year).

In the last spot of the podium, the Tesla Model 3 also had a great month, starting the year two positions above its #5 position of January 2022. It will be interesting to see how much of a kickback the upcoming refresh will have on Model 3 demand. Let’s not forget that the sedan was on a downwards trend in 2022….

Off the podium, aside from the slow month of the Wuling Mini EV, the first half of the ranking hasn’t really brought anything noticeable. There was the usual BYD armada, followed by the usual best selling legacy model, the VW ID.4.

The second half of the table is far more interesting, starting with the two Li Auto models. The Escalade-like L9 was in 11th, with 7,996 registrations, while the slightly smaller L8 was 15th, with 6,099 registrations. The also full size L7 5-seat SUV is set to land on the market soon as well — the startup is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the full size segment. With 20% gross margin in the last quarter of 2022, and the possibility of increasing that margin throughout this year, selling 20,000–25,000 vehicles a month is becoming a real possibility. For comparison mode, Tesla’s best months with the Model S & X were around 15,000 units per month.

Another model impressing was the #12 Volvo XC40 (4,699 units of which were the BEV version). BYD’s Denza upmarket brand had its D9 large MPV reach the 14th position thanks to a record 6,438 registrations. The #16 NIO ET5 is providing the brand much needed volume, with the startup finally having a star player on the team. The VW ID.3 showed up in #20, making it the second Volkswagen model on the table. In #19 we have another BYD model, with the midsize SUV Frigate 07 debuting on the best sellers table. That made it 8 BYDs on the top 20 table, or 9 if we include Denza’s D9 in the tally. So, basically, BYD owns almost half of the global best sellers table.

Oh, and in 21st place, we have the BYD Destroyer 05 … so make it 10 models on the top 21 spots. 😮

Another interesting take from the the lower half of the best sellers table: only the #18 GAC Aion S was present on the table a year ago, and more than half of the models (Li Xiang L9 & L8, Denza D9, BYD Seal, BYD Frigate 07, NIO ET5) weren’t even on the market 12 months ago. … That says a lot about the volatility of the current EV market, and there is still a lot of open field for new players.

Outside the top 20, a reference goes out to the #22 Audi Q4 e-tron, which ended the month just 21 units behind the #20 VW ID.3. We could see the compact Audi showing up in the top 20 soon.

Manufacturers: BYD Starts Ahead

January saw BYD win the monthly manufacturer title, thanks to 143,000 registrations, ending with a comfortable lead of over 40,000 units over runner-up Tesla.

Top selling electric vehicle brands in the world

But the most striking aspect of these two in January was that both increased their score compared to January 2022, by about 50,000 units each! No one could really compete with this, with the 3rd best score in this metric, made by … Nissan. (Yep, it was Nissan alright … more on that below.) Unlike the other two, Nissan increased its score by … just 5,500 units. That is a very different production scale. It’s like the top two are racing at full sprint against each other while the remaining competition is doing its best to not walk slowly. And 2023 looks to increase the difference even further.

On the one hand, Tesla will have Giga Texas and Giga Berlin ramping up, with demand increasing thanks to the price cuts and the refresh of the Model 3 (and Model Y?). On the other hand, 2023 will be the first full year that BYD exports EVs in large volumes, which already allowed it to sell thousands of units last year in markets like Costa Rica, Colombia, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand, with a few more markets looking very promising for this year, like Uruguay, Brazil, Thailand, and Singapore.

Bring on the popcorn, because this will be fun!

Now, about the aforementioned Nissan. The Japanese make was the biggest surprise in January, jumping into the 15th spot and growing 128% YoY, the highest growth rate of any brand present on this table. This is mostly thanks to the introduction of the tiny Sakura kei car in its home Japan, which is proving to be a success. It got 4,213 sales in January alone. The introduction of the Ariya didn’t hurt either (2,411 units). Although, Nissan’s SUV is still below the sales level of the Nissan LEAF (3,654 units). Come on, Nissan, you can do better here.

Regarding the positions at the top, the last place on the podium went to BMW, with close to 29,000 registrations. Many of those were thanks to a strong month in its Chinese operations. Does this means that the Bavarian maker has finally found a winning formula for the biggest EV market in the world?

Two other brands on the rise are Volvo and Changan, with the first benefitting from strong sales of its (small) BEV lineup and the second, Changan, slowly building a decent lineup, like the cutesy Lumin and striking Shenlan SL03.

In the Chinese EV startup sector, the current star is Li Auto, ending the month in 10th with over 15,000 registrations. With the brand still focused on growing in the full size category (should leader BYD be worried?), one wonders how high the future L6 and L5 midsize models can take the brand. I guess we should know the answer in 2024.

In the second half of the table, Ford started the year in a meritable #16, a nice place to start 2023, which is expected to be a year of significant growth for the Dearborn make.

Also in the USA, another make on the rise is Jeep, #18 in January thanks to 9,235 registrations. It beat #20 Peugeot and became the best selling Stellantis brand! With US EV incentives being quite generous to PHEVs (one could almost say that Stellantis whispered a few good words to the legislators who wrote the details of the incentives…), expect Jeep to also surf the “IRA wave” and grow its sales significantly.

Just outside the top 20, we have #21 Toyota, with 7,895 registrations, once again knocking at the door of the best sellers table. (Wait, are mixing metaphors too much here?) Benefitting from the added volumes of the BZ4X (3,285 units), the Japanese automaker is expected to jump into the top 20 soon. The thing is, we have been here before. Toyota has more than once been on the best sellers table. It was even the #2 manufacturer in 2012. And more than once, it got cold feet, dropping into obscurity. Is this time for real? I mean, Toyota has such low-hanging fruit that if it wanted, it could easily become the fastest growing brand on the table. But Toyota has to make up its mind and really want it….

Looking at OEMs, BYD (22.7%, up from 18.4% in December 2022) is starting out ahead, with Tesla (15.2%, up from 13%) in the runner-up position. An ever more distant Volkswagen Group (7.5%, down from 8.2%) closed out the podium. At this point, the best that Volkswagen Group can expect is to retain the bronze medal.

Geely–Volvo (5.8%, down from 6%) is 4th in sales, benefitting from the slow month from SAIC, which started the year with only 5.1% share, a full 2.1% share below its final result in 2022 (7.2%). Ironically, at the same time, SAIC is making important inroads in Europe, thanks to its MG brand. It is simply losing significant ground in its home market. … The Shanghai-based OEM is even vulnerable enough to have its 5th place in the sights of #6 BMW Group (4.8%) and #7 Stellantis (4.8%).

Looking just at BEVs, there were 442,994 registrations in January, or 67% of total plugin sales. Both Tesla and BYD started in the same positions they held in 2022, but more importantly, both increased their market shares in January, with the former jumping from 18.2% to 22.8% and the latter from 12.6% to 16.1%. These two are really in a different galaxy…

… And while the top two increased their market share significantly, the most direct competition continued to lose share. In fact, #3 Volkswagen Group (7.8% vs. 7.9% in December 2022), #4 SAIC (6.9% vs. 9.3%), and #5 Geely–Volvo (5.1% vs. 5.3%) all lost share. (At least Volkswagen Group climbed to the podium in January, so not all was lost for the German OEM.)

Just outside the top 5, we have a surprise in #6, with the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance (4.8%) closing in on the top 5 thanks to Nissan’s stellar January as well as good results from both Dacia and Renault. Will we see the alliance return to the table soon?

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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