China Now Ties US For Leadership In Cumulative Global Plug-In Sales

Among the nations of the world, the 522,519 cumulative plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs) sold in the U.S. makes it the world’s number one market – and China with 521,649 through September is now technically tied.

Both countries for now are behind Europe by a bit less than 50,000 units, and their essential tie is because some models sold in China are excluded from its domestic-only total. This moment otherwise is like a snapshot in time as faster-growing China will soon enough surpass all.

The U.S.-China tie thus marks the last month for the foreseeable future, if not forever, that the U.S. holds the global number one ranking. By October’s end, China, which has been tracking with 30,000 monthly sales will in all likelihood eclipse the U.S. which may buy around 14,000-16,000 in a month.

Europe will then be in its sites, and China’s passing of it is just a matter of maybe a few months.

Qualified Picture

The wiggle room in the “tie” comes from a few factors including that China’s total excludes import sales, such as from Tesla, and BMW i-series – for which reliable data is not now available – so if these were counted it is likely already ahead.

BYD Qin.

BYD Qin.

Counts go back to 2005 for China, and 2008 for the U.S. but China was like a dry desert for PEV sales – or what it calls New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) – until 2014 when things exploded, and continue to accelerate.

Notable also is this is a comparison of passenger vehicles. If all vehicle segments were counted, China – being the world leader in electrified bus sales with 173,000 though December 2015 – would have at least 733,447 NEVs sold.

That right there already makes it the top market.


Aside from the momentary tie, other similarities between the U.S. can be observed.

For one, the top-selling brands this calendar-year-to-date in each country are domestic. For the U.S., it’s Tesla with an estimated 34,300 (out of 53,722 globally). For China it is BYD, with 74,186 units delivered in China alone.

BYD sales figures for other countries are not available, but this otherwise means BYD which last year was the world’s best-selling plug-in brand is again this year by a wider margin.

Will BYD passenger cars come to the U.S.? So far, it has North American operations, but is focusing on small-scale fleet cars, and buses, and has not made the big move to establishing a broader import and sales presence in the U.S., or sought to produce domestically.

Some of BYD’s cars like the Qin plug-in hybrid would satisfy American tastes, being fast and with more EV range than any gas-electric car sold in the U.S., aside from the Chevy Volt or BMW i3 REx.

The Qin is of course already popular in China, and has accounted for 65,178 cumulative sales to date since its inception. The top-selling model this year however is now the BYD Tang SUV, with 26,788 units just from January-September, and this also could prove popular if BYD brought it stateside.

BYD Tang.

BYD Tang.

Similar also is market share. The U.S. saw its best plug-in sales month ever in September just as it was about to lose its cumulative top selling status, with 1.12 percent of the market and a record 16,069 sales. In China, September plug-in sales accounted for 1.16 percent with 29,699 sales.

SEE ALSO: China’s BYD Tang Hybrid SUV Has More Power Than a Corvette Stingray

Calendar year to date, China reports 209,359 domestically produced sales. The U.S. reports 109,513 imported and domestic.

Where the track record between the U.S. and China are not similar, however, is that China has had a spate of fraud among its domestic automakers claiming sales of vehicles on paper only.

China Trims Electrified Car Incentives As ‘Scoundrels’ Grab What They Can

While the U.S. has had some failed startups, like Fisker Automotive, which left taxpayers in the lurch, the degree of blatant cheating China has experienced has not been reported here. Authorities in China are reportedly working to close the potential for dishonest dealing.

How are Other Countries Doing?

By far, the global total of 1,785,000 total PEVs on the road are thanks to the U.S., China, and Europe.

The U.S. and China make up 29.2 percent of this, Europe accounts for 31.9 percent, and another country of note, Japan, makes up 8.1 percent.

SEE ALSO: September 2016 Dashboard

The top 10 – under the big three U.S., China and Europe – are led by Japan with about 145,000 cumulative and which is one of five in the world that have over 100,000 cumulative PEV sales through September.

The other two are Norway (over 121,000), and France, which just crossed 100,000 in early October. The Netherlands is also soon due to cross the milestone, and now has more than 98,000 PEV sales.

Rounding out the list are UK with about 90,000, Germany with almost 67,000, Sweden with over 26,000, and Canada with about 25,000.

Looking Ahead

We’ve been reporting China’s rising for more than the past couple years and there are optimistic and pessimistic views on the reality that it is now the world’s biggest vehicle market.

In neutral terms, it is clear that the central-government controlled Communist country has the will and capability to incentivize the industry and spur sales more than the U.S. It’s also aided by its larger population, and growing domestic national product.

A pessimistic view is the country, which has seen more than its share of intellectual property theft and even cloning of whole cars, is aggressively leveraging its massive population and growth to attract the world’s best automakers to set up shop.

This is a whole discussion beyond the scope of this article, but to simply observe the optimistic view, China may become a fertile ground of future innovation as the legacy makers and its own budding domestic industry continue to innovate.

Oh, is that a Tesla? Nope! It's made by Youxia Motors, don't you know? It's just like the Tesla, said its more than a little ambitious maker.

Oh, sharp looking car. Is it a Tesla? Nope! It’s made by Youxia Motors, don’t you know? It’s a lot like the Tesla, said its more than a little ambitious maker, maybe too much like it say others.

Already we’ve seen such phenomena as General Motors developing its Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid for China, making its world debut there, and then choosing to import it back to the U.S., instead of producing it domestically in its home market.

And GM is not alone in devoting resources to China’s plug-in growth market. Other carmakers have and are expected to continue developing vehicles that could be exported, or provide the basis for other models in the growing global market.

So for what it is worth, as China takes the role of clear-cut global leader, others stand to benefit, and we shall see where this all goes.