China’s EV sales are on the “kuai che” train, which is pretty slow
A friend in China recently asked me for my thoughts on the electric vehicle sales numbers in China. I realized I hadn’t thought about them much! That’s odd for one who blogs about China and electric vehicles, but then I haven’t been posting much lately. Alas, other, better-paying tasks have been taking up my time. My friend’s question was a good one, however, and I decided to answer it with, finally, a blog post.
It’s fair to say that China’s new energy vehicle policy (which includes battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles) has been consistent if not entirely realistic. The numbers put forth in the original policy in 2010 were completely unrealistic. That has since been modified several times.
As in many countries, there isn’t much demand for NEVs in China without government subsidies. China’s subsidy policy was also unrealistic, to the extent that it was limited in its time frame. It’s easy to see when the last policy ended – just look for a huge dip in NEV (and let’s face it, we’re only talking about BEVs and PHEVs, collectively plug-in electric vehicles or PEVs, for now) production numbers.
Why have NEV production and sales numbers suddenly spiked again? Because in late 2014 the government confirmed its subsidy policy for PEVs. Automakers aren’t interested in producing NEVs without assurance that the government won’t “reward” them. Of course, they also face pressure from the central government to produce NEVs, but they resist that pressure by only paying lip service to such production until it becomes clear there is government financial backing.
So, what were the NEV sales figures for January-February (sales figures in China for the first two months of the year are generally reported as one number because the Chinese New Year holiday moves around and has a big impact on numbers for the month in which it falls.)?
In January and February, 12,853 NEVs were produced in China, and 12,440 were sold. Of that, 6,519 BEVs were produced and 5,996 were sold. As for PHEVs, 6,334 were produced and 6,444 were sold. Those are pretty small numbers considering 4 million light vehicles were sold in China in the first two months of 2015 according to LMC Automotive, including 3.46 million passenger vehicles and 571,465 light commercial vehicles. But the NEV sales are a big jump over 2014, when year-end sales for BEVs were 45,048 units and for PHEVs 29,715 units.
The big jump in 2015 numbers is still a far cry from the volumes China will need to reach its target of a cumulative 336,000 units produced and sold in 2015. That is a bit more realistic than the original target of 500,000, however. The production target for 2020 is still two million units, and total number of NEVs on the road by then is still five million, as near as I can figure.
Targets aside, let’s consider the sales numbers for the first two months of 2015. Who were those sales to? What kind of vehicles were sold? Key questions. I doubt consumers did much of the buying. I’ll bet a lot of them were sold to municipal fleets. That doesn’t really matter. I have long maintained that the primary market in China for PEVs will be municipal fleets, including buses, taxis, and passenger vehicles. Still, I’d love to see a breakdown of the sales.
Meanwhile, with some certainty regarding the central government’s policy support continuing, China’s state-owned automakers have gone bonkers over PEVs. But their strategies differ markedly, as my twin ChinaEV, the Chinese website at http://www.chinaev.org, points out in a March 31 story. It looks at plans by Beijing Auto (BAIC), SAIC, and Guangzhou Auto to introduce a cumulative 25 new NEV models over the next three years. BAIC focuses on battery-electric passenger vehicles and delivery trucks; SAIC focuses on PHEV passenger cars, with “more emphasis on vehicle performance and mileage”; and Guangzhou Auto plans both BEV and PHEV passenger car launches.
Of course, pricing and especially more public charging posts will be key contributors to consumer sales for all these models, if they all make it to market. And since local governments own all three, you can bet that the local governments will be making some NEV purchases.
I’m headed to Shanghai in a few weeks to attend Auto China, among other things. It will be interesting to see how prominently NEVs figure in the stands this year. That also fluctuates based on policy. I’ll report back.
Around five years ago, I remember John Du, head of GM’s China Lab in Shanghai, telling me that there was no going back on China’s plans for NEVs. “The train has left the station,” he said. Well, turns out Du was correct, but that train is like the slow train I once accidentally bought a hard-seat ticket for in China about 15 years ago. This was labeled at “kuai che,” or “fast train.” In reality, it was very slow. It stopped at every town. What should have been a 2.5 hour trip took five hours. But I got there. I should have taken the “tebie kuai che,” it turned out (“especially fast train”).
China’s NEV train is a kuai che. But it will eventually get there.