China Buys Half-Millionth Passenger Plug-in Car; On Track To Surpass US

This month China is expected to have purchased in excess of a cumulative total of 500,000 plug-in passenger vehicles, potentially surpassing the U.S. in the process.

Exact counts of all “New Energy Vehicles” (NEVs) won’t be known until after the month’s end, but the nation had an estimated 493,290 in the bag through August, and has consistently bought around 30,000 monthly in recent months.

It will be close, but odds are in China’s favor it could wind up in the neighborhood of 523,000 units – not including imported Teslas or BMW i3s – to edge out the U.S.

The U.S. crossed the 500,000 mark with 506,540 units tallied through August after more or less consistent growth since 2011, and counting a few fringe models back to 2008.

This month the U.S. may see enough sales to get it close to 520,000, so again, the jury is out, but China’s sooner-or-later NEV sales supremacy over the U.S. – and still number-one Europe – looks assured.


Europe – the first of these markets which combined account for most plug-in cars on the planet – transcended 500,000 units in May, and the tally through July was 535,619, with exact count through August around 550,000.

At its present rate, China could eclipse Europe by November, but numbers are only part of the picture.

While today Chinese companies such as LeEco (pictured top), Warren Buffett-backed BYD, and several others are spooling up their designs, the technological leadership has come from Europe, Japan, and the U.S. To this day, while things are shifting toward improved models, many of the plug-in electrified passenger vehicles sold in China are small tin cans that many an American would not consider safe or desirable.

And for a variety of reasons besides, unlike the U.S., China was not as successful at first jump starting its new energy vehicle sales since 2009 when it began to throw incentive money at manufacturers and consumers to create a new market.

That market was announced with four goals. These were 1) to establish a world-leading industry along with jobs and exports; 2) facilitate a reduction in Middle East oil dependence; 3) enable the reduction of urban air pollution; and 4) to also cut carbon emissions.

Despite incentives and prodding from the central government, China missed production and sales targets up till 2014 while achieving some growth, then in 2015 it exploded with a record 207,380 plug-in passenger cars sold.

Later doubts were raised on counts as it was discovered cheating was taking place by unscrupulous people trying to game the free government money, and claiming sales on paper only.

China Penalizing ‘New Energy’ Bus Makers for Taking Illegal Subsidies

A recently published global outlook by the U.S. Energy Information Agency established that 312,290 plug-in cars had been sold by the end of 2015, and current counts, while there may be variance, are believed more or less reliable.

China incidentally is the world leader also in commercial electric buses, with over 150,000 sold – much more than the number of Chevy Volts sold worldwide, as one example, and representing a significant dent in carbon emissions.

BYD eBus.

BYD eBus.

In May we reported another “500,000” milestone for China – this included all NEVs, including sanitation trucks and buses. The milestone for September 2016 is just for passenger vehicles, and China’s total NEV tally is estimated at 689,447 through August.

Given all counts, and current sales, the world could surpass the 2 million unit milestone this year in the yet-nascent industry.

And, China, it appears after dozing through the early years while the U.S., Europe, and Japan were energetically making a bit more relative progress, will preside as the global leader in commercial and passenger segments.

Notable also is China is a magnet for major automakers – aside from a few reluctant to share too much intellectual property. Active with state-required joint-venture partners are companies including Nissan, General Motors, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and several others.


On the consumer benefit side, this means more research and development on vehicles that could find their way to other markets.

GM’s Cadillac CT6 PHEV is a prime example. That car was developed for China, and is to be exported back to the U.S.

Communist China’s policies otherwise have been a concern for some, as it has the stated goal of being world leader, and it is leveraging its massive population and resultant market to pull in the best and brightest from the West to accelerate its goals.

And, with the present state of affairs, while plug-ins are still a drop in the bucket next to 75 million vehicles projected to be sold in total worldwide this year, it is gaining traction, and is not looking back.

Thanks to Mario R. Duran for help with data.