|GAC Aion S: the new cool kid in China|
After the (subsidy) storm
After an end-of-incentives derived surge in June, July saw the expected hangover, with the Chinese plugin market dropping 7% YoY, and the 70,000 units of last month representing less than half of the deliveries of the previous month, with PHEVs sinking 22% YoY in July, their worst drop in over two years, while amazingly, BEVs still managed to grow, if only by 1%, despite the gloom around it (the overall market also dropped 4%).
In the midst of this adverse environment, July’s PEV share reached 4.6%, dropping the 2019 PEV market share by 0.2% share, to 6.1%, which is still well above the 2018 result (4.2%), and depending on how fast the market recovers, it could still be on target to reach my forecast of 8% for 2019.
The reason for this drop lies on the subsidy changes that happened on June, 26, when NEV subsidies were cut off completely for vehicles with less than 250 kms electric range, while those with higher range saw their subsidies halved, which made some models to peak in June.
From now on, we should see a less subsidy dependent market, with several models unable to compensate the subsidy loss, while others will continue thriving, as we are starting to this month.
This is just another factor adding up to the reasons on why China is without doubt the most fascinating and fast evolving plugin market on Earth, with several changes happening at the same time, be it foreign OEMs trying to get a piece of the NEV cake / avoid fines imposed the new quota system, local makers scaling up production with a never ending slew of ever more competitive models, or the run for survival of the several startups on the market.
As expected, this month was filled with surprises, with several models drying up their output, while others continued their career as nothing had happened.
In July, the most important surprise in the models ranking came in #3, with the SAIC-GM offspring Baojun E-Series scoring an amazing 6,328 units, while the #4 GAC Aion S and #5 BMW 530Le also shined.
Here’s last month Top 5 Best Selling models individual performance:
#1 – BAIC EU-Series: The electric sedan scored 8,937 units last month, with deliveries dropping by half regarding June, but the good thing is that orders kept coming in, and things should only improve from now on, this confirming to be the brand’s right bet for 2019. The design and specs (215 hp, 416 kms / 260 mi NEDC, US $32,500) allows it to remain a popular choice, but with the competition tightening every passing month, BAIC will have a tough job ahead of it, if it wants to keep leading the pack.
#2 – BYD Yuan / S2 EV: To counterbalance the subsidy cut, BYD launched a basic version of the Yuan EV, called the S2, with a less powerful electric motor (only 70 kW / 93 hp) and a smaller battery (41 kWh), allowing it to keep the 6,000-something monthly results. With the brand prioritizing BEVs, battery demand is increasing faster than before, so higher priced models (Tang, Song, Qin, etc) have the priority over the Yuan, making it hard for the crossover to surpass the regular 6,400 units of July. The Yuan EV has unrivalled specs (58 kWh battery, 410 kms/255 mi NEDC range, 163 hp motor), given its price (25,000 USD), while the S2 version, some 2,000 USD cheaper, will appeal to the more cash-strapped customers.
#3 – Baojun E-Series: Shanghai Auto and General Motors had high hopes for their tiny two-seater, and despite an irregular career, the last evolution of the tiny two-seater, the E200, which has been recently updated with a 250 kms NEDC range version, reached the podium for the first time since January, having registered 6,328 units last month. The updated range, thanks to a new 24 kWh battery, is a crucial tool to reach the subsidy minimum range requirement, which added to its competitive price (CNY 93,900 / USD 14,700) before subsidies, makes it an appealing model, especially considering its modern design and features, and the fact that most of its competitors lost the access to subsidies. Maybe GM could consider exporting it?
#4 – GAC Aion S: Just a couple of months ago I was mentioning the big potential of this recently landed model, saying it could reach a 10,000 units/month pace this year. And it sure looks like it will, because in only its third month in the market, the sleek sedan is already at 3,406 units, reaching the 4th place in July. Another sedan inspired by the Tesla Model 3 formula, GAC has high hopes for its new dedicated EV lineup, the Aion. Right now we have the sedan Aion S, but a midsize SUV, the LX, will soon follow. But back at the Aion S, beyond the stylish (and aerodynamic - 0.245cd) looks, this new model bears some impressive specs: a 59 kWh CATL NCM 811 battery, 510 km / 318 mi NEDC range and Level 2 driving aids, but the real killer is the price: Around 180,000 CNY / $26,000. Before subsidies. Like Kanye West would say: “Now, I ain’t sayin’ it’s a Tesla-killer / But the Aion is messin’ with the Best Sellers…”
#5 – BMW 530Le: The rise and rise of BMW’s luxury sedan in China demonstrates two intersecting trends, first the never-ending increase in demand for environmentally-friendly vehicles in China, and second the need to fulfill the plugin quotas. Add the two together, and you have 2,752 units results, even without access to subsidies (then again, let’s face it, subsidies for cars at this price level don’t really make that much of a difference, the owners just use the money for some nicer alloys or optional creature comforts…), so the leader in the Luxury category should remain selling at some 2,500 units per month, which is well above its direct competitors, that are happy to reach 1,000 units in one month.
|Hey?!? Remember me? The EC-Series? I'm back!...|
The market is dynamic as ever, with plenty to talk about, this time the main reason for changes were the subsidy derived deliveries dry up of some models, some of them being completely unexpected.
We’ll start with the most important position change, with the BYD Tang PHEV displacing its sibling, the BYD e5, from the podium, with the sedan model seeing its deliveries almost disappear with the subsidy cut. This was one of the most surprising slumps, but considering the e5 sales are directed towards price-sensitive customers, like taxi fleets, one can understand it.
The question now is, what will BYD do about it? Let’s not forget, the e5 is the workhorse that supports the brand, so that the fancier Dynasty models (Tang, Song, Qin and Yuan) can shine.
On the other hand, the most surprising good result came from the Baojun E-Series, that jumped three positions, to #7, profiting from the fact that is one of the few (the only?) small two-seater city EV that fulfills the minimum range requirements (250 kms NEDC) to keep subsidies coming in.
Because there is a steady demand in big cities for this kind of vehicles, not only from private buyers, but also by car-sharing companies, expect the E-Series to continue thriving, at least until the competitors launch updated versions of their own city EVs.
In the second half of the table, BAIC is on the up, with the small EC-Series climbing one position, to #18, while the EX-Series crossover shows up for the first time this year, in #20, making it three Beijing Auto models in the Top 20, a first this year.
Indifferent to the subsidies cut, the BMW 530Le jumped to #14, and has the Tesla Model 3 just 449 units away, so the German model could still climb further in the next couple of months.
The race for the best-selling foreign nameplate seems to be warming up now, as the current leader VW Passat PHEV lost speed, and should be pressured soon by both the Tesla Model 3 and BMW 530Le, in what could be an interesting race to follow.
The Xpeng G3 EV, from the startup Xiaopeng, slowed slightly the pace, delivering 1,515 units last month, but it was still better than WM Motors (1,093 units) and Nio (1,502), although this last one saw the recent ES6 reach 1,066 units in July, so expect Nio to recover the Best Selling Startup title soon, thanks to the ES6 production ramp up.
Talking about production ramp ups, the much hyped GAC Aion S sedan is growing fast, having reached 3,406 units last month, putting to shame the archrival Geely Geometry A, that scored only 1,076 units, dropping 37% regarding the previous month. Although the GAC sedan is still 3,000 units below the Top 20, if the model continues to grow deliveries at this pace, it shouldn’t take long for it to show up in the ranking.
How high will the GAC sedan go? Top 10? It all depends on the speed of the production ramp up, but one thing is certain: The Aion S looks to be a strong contender for a Top 5 spot in 2020.
Looking at the manufacturers ranking, BYD (23%, up 1%) is leading comfortably, thanks to the collective success of its lineup, while below it, BAIC (10%) and SAIC (8%) remain in the medal spots.
Outside the podium, Geely (6%) increased the distance to other, smaller players (Chery, JAC…), while it prepares to go after a medal position in the coming months.