China Reports 500,000th Plug-in Vehicle Sold

China has reported that by March it had exceeded a half-million plug-in electrified vehicles sold, and if things go to plan, the world has seen almost nothing yet.

In what is now the largest conventional car and plug-in car market, Chinese authorities have since 2012 had a goal that Tesla could approve of to sell 10-times this number, or 5 million New Energy Vehicles (NEVs) by 2020.

These would consists of all classes of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles from passenger cars to buses and heavy trucks.

This year, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) estimates present sales progress in the rapidly spooling up market could see 700,000 cumulative sales reached.

The tally through March of 502,572 NEVs includes 366,219 battery electric vehicles, and 136,353 plug-in hybrids. This consists of around 60-percent passenger vehicles, and the rest are buses and heavy duty trucks, of which, more than 100,000 are all-electric buses.

Asterisk on the Total Count

A few qualifiers are in order however. Chinese authorities are investigating alleged cheating which could have padded figures. If they are inflated, April sales of 31,772 more NEVs just announced today brought the reported total to 534,000 making it more likely 500,000 has been crossed or will be soon.

Further, the 500,000-plus sales reported exclude foreign-built EVs such as Tesla Model S and BMW i3.

At least certain is rapid growth is being reported as policymakers revise the incentive plan to model things on California.

“Relevant national departments are currently studying and drawing lessons from the U.S. state of California’s methods to encourage the use of new energy cars (to tackle vehicle emissions),” said Xu Heyi, chairman of the state-owned Beijing Automotive Group last July.

China is the world’s leader in the plug-in heavy-duty segment, including electric buses, plug-in trucks, particularly sanitation trucks.

If one compared it to the former world leader, the U.S., since 2008 450,000 plug-in passenger vehicles had been sold, or about half of a 1 million PEV goal set by President Obama earlier this decade.

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Padded numbers in China aside, the nation driven by autocratic central planners means business, and a goal established in 2009 that initially saw lots of pushback is seeing progress as the country embraces ways to clean its air.

As of December 2015, China was the world’s largest electric bus market, and by 2020, according to Reuters, it’s expected to account for more than 50 percent of the global electrified bus market.

Clearly electric buses displace much more petroleum and eliminate much more greenhouse gas than electric compact hatchbacks in other markets, which speaks in favor of China’s initiatives and evolving policies.

In April 2016 China’s Traffic Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security emulated a policy set by Norway to designate special green license plates to identify NEVs.

These replaced blue plates and let police enforce the rules, and grant priveleges to those who have them.

As one example, a driving restriction regulation in central Beijing bans conventional vehicles from entering the city for one day a week, but no such rule bars NEVs.

Government support for NEV adoption has actually four goals in all: 1) to create a world-leading industry that would produce jobs and exports; 2) energy security to reduce its oil dependence which comes from the Middle East; 3) to reduce urban air pollution; and 4) to reduce its carbon emissions.

Year-by Year Progress

Before 2011 sales were insignificant, and the tally began rising in 2011 with 8,159 NEVs consisting of 5,579 BEVs and 2,580 PHEVs.

In 2012 sales jumped to 12,791 NEVs comprised of 11,375 BEVs and 1,416 PHEVs. In 2013, the annual sales number grew to 17,642 made up of 14,604 BEVs and 3,038 PHEVs.

Then came 2014. That year saw more than a four-fold increase 74,763, or 45,048 BEVs and 29,715 PHEVs.

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And perhaps because quadruple year-over-year growth was a good feeling, China did it again in 2015 recording 331,082 NEVs consisting of 247,482 BEVs plus 83,610 PHEVs.

Last year some gaming of the system was alleged, so this 4.4-times as much as 2014 may be high, but clearly they are onto something over there.

Naturally also market share has correspondingly increased, from 0.04 percent in 2011 to 1.35 percent in 2015 out of 26.6 million vehicles sold in 2015.

By comparison, the U.S. bought 17.35 million passenger cars in 2015 and plug-in vehicles accounted for 0.65 percent market share.

This year the U.S. is on track to sell 500,000 passenger PEVs having started earlier in 2008, but also did not really getting rolling until 2011. Likewise, Europe is due a bit sooner.

Ironically, in 2014 the U.S. state of California actually documented more PEV sales than did all of China, but as one can see this is not the case any longer showing also how quickly things can change.

Thanks to sales tracker Mario R. Duran for information leading to this report.