Workers assemble cars at SAIC Motor's plant in Ningde, Fujian province, in March. (PHOTO by LI FUSHENG/CHINA DAILY)
Homegrown and international models see healthy results last month
Vehicle sales, especially those of new energy vehicles, in China picked up speed in March after a sluggish start in the first two months of 2023, bolstering the confidence of carmakers and analysts in the world's largest vehicle market.
Retail sales of passenger vehicles may total 1.6 million units in March, basically the same level of the same month last year, but an increase of 17 percent from February, according to the estimate by the China Passenger Car Association.
The CPCA estimated that retail sales of NEVs would reach 549,000 units, up 5 percent year-on-year and 27 percent from February.
A number of listed carmakers and NEV startups saw an upward spiral in their sales in March, while dominant brands such as BYD and Tesla retained their high-speed growth as usual.
Shenzhen-listed BYD delivered more than 207,000 vehicles in March, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, almost double the figure of the same month last year.
The sales surge last month brought its total deliveries in the first quarter to 552,000 units, up 89.5 percent year-on-year.
BYD President Wang Chuanfu said the carmaker aims to sell 3 to 3.6 million vehicles this year.
"Our goal is to become the largest carmaker in China," said Wang at an investor meeting in late March.
In 2022, BYD sold 1.86 million vehicles, toppling Sino-German joint venture FAW-Volkswagen as the largest passenger carmaker.
If its sales could reach 3.6 million units this year, it would easily take the crown from Volkswagen AG as the best-selling car group in China.
A woman examines a Model Y at the Tesla store in Jinan, Shandong province, on March 27. (PHOTO by TANG KE/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Tesla maintained its decent growth as well. The CPCA estimated that the United States' carmaker's plant in Shanghai delivered 88,900 vehicles in March, up 35 percent year-on-year.
GAC Group sold 231,000 vehicles, both gasoline models and NEVs, in March, up 1.85 percent year-on-year.
That performance was the result of its NEV arm Aion's rapid sales rise, according to its file to the Shanghai stock exchange.
Aion sold more than 40,000 electric crossovers and sedans last month, soaring 97 percent year-on-year.
Its deliveries in the first quarter rose 74.5 percent to 78,318 units despite a 48.8 percent slump in January.
Volvo-owner Geely saw the same NEV-driven growth pattern. The Hong Kong-listed carmaker sold more than 110,000 vehicles in March, up 9 percent year-on-year.
Of them more than 28,000 were NEVs, bearing the marques of the namesake Geely as well as Lynk &Co, Zeekr and Livan, a rise of 98 percent year-on-year, said the carmaker.
Its premium Zeekr brand sold 6,663 units in March. Although the absolute volume was not large compared with giants like BYD, its growth for the month was a surprising 271 percent year-on-year.
The marque has only two models in the market and it is expected to launch its third model this week. It expects this year's sales to double its figure last year to 140,000 units.
Of China's NEV startups, Nasdaq-listed Li Auto topped the list. It sold 20,800 units in March, up 88.7 percent year-on-year and up 25 percent from February.
Li Auto was followed by New York-listed Nio, which sold 10,378 vehicles in March, up 3.9 percent year-on-year but down 14.6 percent month-on-month.
William Li, Nio founder and CEO, said the first months of this year will be tough because of the withdrawal of subsidies, but he is confident that Nio can outsell Toyota's premium Lexus brand this year in China.
Coming after Nio last month were Neta, Xpeng and Leapmotor, but neither of them saw year-on-year growth in March although all of them sold more vehicles in March than in February.
China's largest carmaker SAIC Motor sold 352,000 vehicles in March, down 20.6 percent year-on-year, but it expects sales to grow year-on-year in April.
Its sales goal for the whole year stands at 6 million units. Of them, NEVs will total 1.5 million units, said SAIC Motor.
SAIC's partner, Volkswagen, is among the first international carmakers to launch EVs in China.
Although eclipsed by local Chinese rival products, its electric ID.models are the best-selling EVs of international brands.
Volkswagen is expected to invest 15 billion euros ($16.3 billion) in e-mobility with its Chinese partners by 2024. By 2030, it aims to electrify most of the group's portfolio in the country.
"The momentum of transformation toward e-mobility in China is unstoppable," said Stefan Mecha, CEO of Volkswagen China Passenger Cars Brand.
BYD's Wang expects NEVs to account for 40 to 45 percent of total vehicle sales this year in China, which translates into 8.5 to 9 million NEVs.