Plugin vehicles had another great month in China last month, with 104,000 registrations, a six-fold jump compared to the same month last year. Though, recall that February 2020 was heavily disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, if we were to compare with February 2019, last month also showed a major jump in sales. Two years ago, we were celebrating 41,000 registrations in February. How times have changed, eh?
Last month’s plugin vehicle share of the Chinese auto market reached 9% — 7.5% full electrics (BEV). That result pulled the 2021 plugin vehicle share in the country up to 8.7% (7.3% BEV). Furthermore, considering that January and February are China’s weakest months, we can now safely assume that the local plugin vehicle market will cross north of the two-digit mark this year (like Europe), maybe even during the first half of the year!
Looking at February best sellers, we have two midsize models (two Teslas), two city EVs (Wuling Mini EV and Ora Black Cat), and one big sedan (BYD Han EV), with the highlight being the Tesla Model Y winning its first (of many) podium positions — a bronze this time.
#1 — Wuling HongGuang Mini EV
A big name for such a small car, the Wuling EV scored 20,167 registrations last month, effectively ending a 7 month record streak. Clearly, it was still a great result, as this score was still more than the next two models on the podium had combined. Expect the tiny four-seater to continue growing during the next few months, possibly reaching some 350,000–450,000 registrations by the end of the year.
The reason for this success? Well, it is one of the cheapest EVs on the market (just $4,400!!!), and yet, it’s not all that bad. The SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture model can seat 4 people (or 3 people and a bit of cargo, or 2 with a fair amount of cargo – 741 liters). The car is actually a tad larger than a Smart Fortwo EV (2,917 mm / 114.8 in). Sure, range is not brilliant (the smaller battery version has a 9.2 kWh battery, while the top spec version has a 13.8 kWh battery), and neither is the motor (27 hp), but it has only 665 kg curb weight to carry around and is highway capable. In order to get a price tag of just $4,400, without subsidies, one can’t expect miracles. At this price level, the Wuling EV is positioned to be a disruptive force in urban mobility, not only against 4-wheeled private transportation, but also against 2- and 3-wheelers. This EV could be a game changer, and not only in China. … How big is the joint venture dreaming?
#2 — Tesla Model 3
The poster child for electric mobility hit 13,688 registrations last month, and while that’s not as high as one might expect, Tesla’s midsizer continues firmly above the 10,000 mark and should continue scoring 12,000–15,000 performances in the near future. Unless, of course, its sibling Tesla Model Y starts to steal a significant number of sales from it. Interestingly, February was probably the first time that the Model 3 beat the category best sellers in the overall market — the Californian outsold the Audi A4 (9,000 registrations), BMW 3 Series (10,000 registrations), and Mercedes C-Class (11,000 registrations). So, one might say that the Tesla sports sedan is getting closer to its goal.
#3 — Tesla Model Y
Tesla’s new baby hit 4,630 registrations last month, and while that’s not (yet) a Model 3–beating score, it means that the production ramp-up is going smoothly and should hit its peak during the second quarter of the year. The future cruising speed (“Autopilot speed,” we might say) for Tesla’s midsize crossover in China is unclear. While traditional SUVs/crossovers haven’t sold as much as their sedan counterparts, the truth is that the market is leaning towards higher riding bodies just as other major markets shifted in that direction previously. So, the Model Y could surf the wave and outsell its Model 3 by quite some margin down the line. Currently, the best selling premium midsize SUVs in the overall market are the Audi Q5 (12,500 registrations), BMW X3 (10,900 registrations), and Mercedes GLC (8,900 registrations). We could expect the Californian to jump to 10,000+ performances soon, and maybe cruise at some 15,000 units/month this year.
#4 — Great Wall ORA Black Cat (R1)
Great Wall managers decided to grant its EV-only sub-brand Ora a Cat Pack, transforming its tiny R1 Smart-lookalike into the Black Cat, later launching the R2 model as the White Cat, and, to lead the pack, Great Wall just launched the Good Cat, a chunky (and funky) compact hatchback (VW Golf sized) that kind of looks like a Porsche 356 in the front, a Toyota from the side, and the back … well, it’s its own thing. And it was good timing, as they had all 3 Cats in the top 20 last month. Regarding the Black Cat, it scored 4,561 registrations in February, allowing the Great Wall model to continue at the forefront of the city EV resurgence in China.
#5 — BYD Han EV
The rise and rise of BYD’s luxury sedan in China has been paused in February, with the big BYD ending a 6 month record streak with the delivery of “just” 4,100 units. That was still enough to beat the 2nd best selling full-size model (the Li Xiang One) by quite some margin — the big SUV had slightly more than half of the Han EV’s sales. The current poster boy for BYD is expected to continuing thriving in the foreseeable future, keeping the category leadership with an iron fist.
Looking at the rest of the best sellers table in February, a mention goes out to the record score of the small Changan Benni EV, 3,274 registrations, its second record performance in a row. That result allowed this Toyota Yaris–like hatchback to jump to 6th last month, and it raises the question of whether we are witnessing the rise of a new star in the competitive Chinese EV market. What do you think?
Another model jumping positions was SAIC’s Roewe ei6 PHEV sedan, which showed up in #13 last month thanks to 1,639 registrations, its best score since June 2019.
But the flavors of the month are the models from local startups. This time we had 6 representatives in the table, with the highest placed being the #6 Li Xiang One (2,300 registrations). NIO placed all of its 3 models in the top 20, XPeng had its popular P7 sedan in #17, with 1,409 units, and Hozon saw its small Neta V crossover reach #11, with 2,002 units.
Others also had reasons to celebrate, like Great Wall placing all of its 3 Cats in the top 20, and BMW, which besides the usual 530Le getting the #16 slow last month, saw its new iX3 EV sneak onto the table, in #20.
Below the top 20, a reference is due to the ramp-up of the BYD D1 EV, a compact MPV (hurray for MPVs!) aimed at ride-hailing services, namely DiDi, that reached 1,166 sales last month. We should see it on the table soon.
Looking at the 2021 ranking, while the Wuling Mini EV is the undisputed leader, below it, the Climber of the Month was the Tesla Model Y, which jumped from outside the top 20 to #9. Ora’s Black Cat climbed to 4th, at the expense of the GAC Aion S. The Li Xiang One was also up one spot, to 6th, and the Changan Benni EV jumped 3 spots, to #8.
The Black Cat and Benni EV rises underline the fact that city EVs are returning to the spotlight, with the Wuling EV being their finest example.
But it wasn’t only city EVs shining, as Great Wall’s intriguing looking Ora Good Cat joined the table, in #18, with a surprising result. Compact hatchbacks aren’t a popular segment in China, and this is something of a good news for Volkswagen’s ID.3 and its possible career in China. Apparently, you can break into the local top 20 with a compact hatch.
Local startup models are as popular as ever, and just outside the top 20, we have two more of these, with the XPeng G3 in #21 and the Weltmeister EX5 in #22. That makes 8 local startup models in the top 22 positions!
Looking at the automaker rankings, the SGMW joint venture (22%, down 1 percentage point) is in the leadership, while below it there was an important position change, with Tesla (12%, up 3 points) jumping ahead of BYD (11%, down 1 point). So, the Californian automaker now holds the runner-up spot in China.
Below the podium, SAIC (8%, down 1 point) is in 4th, followed by #5 Great Wall (6%) and rising #6 NIO (5%, up 1 point), which has just surpassed GAC (4%).
Interestingly, in the race for Best Selling Foreign Brand Not Named Tesla, #12 BMW surpassed Volkswagen, now relegated to #13. The German automaker, which is the largest brand in the overall Chinese automotive market, is currently behind not only BMW, but also startups like Xpeng (#9) and Li Xiang (#11). Those ID models are badly needed, aren’t they, VW?
See previous China EV sales reports here.
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