China Takes Lead As Number One In Plug-in Vehicle Sales

With the close of 2016, China’s cumulative total plug-in passenger vehicles sales surpass those of Europe and the U.S., further nailing home its number one status.

For the past two years, China has already outpaced the other two global leaders on a monthly basis, and now outranking them in total plug-in vehicles on the road, is continuing on without signs of letting up the pace.

China’s relatively rapid ascent from laggard status earlier this decade follows its having tied the U.S. in cumulative sales in September. After that, it took just two months to at least tie if not surpass Europe in November.

Although there is wiggle room with December sales not counted, given present trends, it’s estimated China will finish with as many as 635,000-645,000 cumulative plug-in sales since 2010 – perhaps 20,000-30,000 more than Europe, and over 70,000 more than the U.S.

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

As the global leader in commercial plug-in vehicles – including city buses and heavy duty trucks – China is also number one in overall plug-in sales, with 846,447 passenger and commercial vehicles sold through November 2016.

This of course is all thanks to aggressive government policies incentivizing the manufacture and purchase of “new energy vehicles” (NEVs) in the nation of 1.38 billion people.

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With these incentives, adjusted on the fly, and despite some cheating by unscrupulous parties along the way, China overcame a slow start from 2010-2014 and has been buying plug-ins at as much as twice the monthly rate or more of the U.S. and Europe.

Made Up For Lost Time

The U.S. was the global leader in terms of annual and cumulative total plug-in sales until 2014.

The world purchased an estimated 307,245 plug-in passenger vehicles in 2014, and of these the U.S. bought 118,662, Europe bought 92,455, China bought 74,763 and Japan accounted for 31,891.

Since 2008 the U.S. had cumulatively purchased 291,332 plug-ins compared to Europe’s over 200,000 and China’s 113,365. That year China had already surpassed Japan’s 106,037, but the U.S. and Europe were still in China’s sites.

BYD Tang Plug-in Hybrid.

BYD Tang Plug-in Hybrid.

In 2015, China checked the U.S. off its list to beat in terms of annual sales, and Europe too leaped ahead of the U.S. sales rate in the first few months of that year.

SEE ALSO: Why Europe Has Passed the US As Number One In Plug-in Electrified Vehicles

The year 2015 saw 520,000 total global plug-in car sales and China led with 297,380, Europe bought 186,170, and U.S. sales declined to 114,248.

This said, the U.S. was still the leader in cumulative sales totaling about 405,580 compared to Europe’s approximately 385,000 and China’s 258,328.

In 2016, Europe became the world cumulative sales leader, crossing a half-million unit milestone in May. The U.S. bought its half-millionth plug-in passenger car in August and by September China tied the U.S. with just over 520,000 plug-in passenger vehicles.

In fact, just this calendar year, domestically produced plug-ins – which comprise about 96 percent of China’s sales – add to 312,290 through November. This compares to 133,843 in the U.S. and 184,000 in Europe.

Some Caveats

What China has done so far might be considered more about quantity, and not as much about quality compared to the U.S. and Europe.

That is, a fair number of its new energy vehicles are those that would not meet U.S. standards for highway legality.

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In 2015, 87 percent of China’s all-electric car sales consisted of the A segment of mini and small cars, 96-percent of plug-in hybrid sales were in the C segment of compact cars, and this trend continued into 2016.

Said A-segment cars in many cases are what Americans would consider dinky little cars that federal authorities would not approve for the highway, likely would have sub-par crash test results, and might make a smart car look posh and upscale.

With the Chinese, these are OK, and they are actually a cut above lead-acid battery powered low-speed neighborhood vehicles which are very popular in smaller Chinese cities. In 2015, 600,000 of these were snapped up, and this year 700,000 were purchased through October.

Big Plans

China has a history of setting oversized goals, missing the deadline, eventually making the target, and it is at it again with a massive agenda of global domination by 2030.

The world’s largest car market, and world’s largest plug-in car market wants plug-ins (NEVs) by 2030 to account for about 15 million sales, or about 40 percent of a 38 million vehicle sales market – a sizable uptick over 2015’s 21 million passenger vehicle sales.

The U.S. last year bought 17.4 million passenger cars and light trucks, so 15 million in China is like a sea change when today it has taken half the decade to get to just over 600,000 cumulative total plug-in passenger vehicles.

LeEco EV.

LeEco EV.

Wrapped in with these ambitions to lead the world are for “partially autonomous” cars to make up half of sales by 2020, and nearly fully autonomous “highly automated” cars to comprise 15 percent of sales by 2025. By 2030, fully autonomous cars are supposed to be one in 10, or close to 4 million per year.

This, at least, is the goal set by a 450-page document by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and China’s Society of Automotive Engineers. The salient points were culled by Fei Meng of the University of California-Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies for a Forbes contributor.

How this “Technology Roadmap” actually comes to pass however may require a mish-mash of push and pull and policy and counter policy.

China also has a pattern of cities and companies throwing monkey wrenches into plans to slow the break-neck pace dreamed up by the central planners.

“The top makes the policy, the bottom takes counter-measures,” goes a saying in China.

This said, while several automakers are already in process of forking over intellectual property in order to do business in this new gold mine, those sitting on the sidelines may be pulled in by the magnet that is to be China’s new energy market.

That appears to be the forecast, though anything can change in the next decade and a few years.

But as can be seen, China has fine tuned its government-driven market, is now the leader by most meaningful metrics, and has set its sites on continuing to outpace everyone else in Europe, the U.S. and Asia – with their help, of course.

Thanks to Mario R. Duran for help with data.


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