Tesla knocks BYD off its perch as world’s largest pure EV makers struggle to win new customers in China’s shrinking market

Tesla knocks BYD off its perch as world’s largest pure EV makers struggle to win new customers in China’s shrinking market

Tesla knocks BYD off its perch as world’s largest pure EV makers struggle to win new customers in China’s shrinking market

Tesla regained its crown as the world’s biggest seller of pure electric vehicles (EVs) in the first quarter, as Huawei Technologies and other start-ups snapped at the heels of the market leader BYD, driving the industry into a ferocious price war in China.

Deliveries by the Austin, Texas-based company fell 20 per cent to 386,810 units worldwide in the first three months, according to a statement on Tuesday. However, that surpassed BYD’s deliveries, which tumbled 43 per cent to 300,114 units in the same period.

BYD, which counts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway among its shareholders, only overtook the US company in the fourth quarter of last year.

“BYD suffered a big setback in the Chinese market as it faces stiff competition from emerging rivals such as Huawei’s Aito-branded cars,” said Gao Shen, an independent analyst in Shanghai. “Its recent price cuts will help the company bolster sales in the coming months at the expense of profitability.”

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China’s BYD overtakes Tesla as world’s largest EV maker

China’s BYD overtakes Tesla as world’s largest EV maker

The battleground in mainland China, the single-largest EV market accounting for about 60 per cent of global sales, has been heating up in recent months as EV makers from BYD to Xpeng and Li Auto engage in a price war to snare increasingly selective and cautious buyers.

Sales of pure-electric cars in China rose 17.4 per cent to 597,000 units in the first two months this year, according to the latest available data compiled electric-car news site CnEVPost, compared with a 7.1 per cent pace in the same period in 2023. Sales rose 37 per cent in 2023, easing from a 96 per cent pace in 2022 and 168 per cent in 2021.

BYD sold 160,212 pure EV worldwide during the first two months of this year, 1 per cent lower than a year ago, with China dominating the volume. Its market share in China slipped to 26.8 per cent from 31.8 per cent over the same period.

Apple CEO Tim Cook meets Wang Chuanfu, chairman and president of BYD, during his visit to Shanghai in March 2024. Photo: Weibo
In contrast, Tesla’s deliveries in China rose 15 per cent to 70,002 units in the first two months from a year earlier, helping the carmaker maintain its market share at just under 12 per cent.
Aito, backed by telecommunication equipment giant Huawei Technologies, reported 54,115 pure electric and plug-in hybrid car sales over the same period, a 578 per cent surge from the same period in 2023.

Tesla’s position at the top may be fleeting as BYD goes on the offensive with price discounts, according to Tian Maowei, a sales manager at Yiyou Auto Service in Shanghai.

“Tesla, which sells one in every three cars in China, is also grappling with difficulties in sustaining growth here,” said Tian. “Given a slowing EV growth pace in developed markets, it is still likely to lose to BYD since the Chinese company is offering discounts to lure customers at home.”

The carmaker has slashed the prices of nearly all of its cars by 5 to 20 per cent since February 18, as growth in China showed signs of tapering off. In March, BYD delivered 139,902 pure electric cars globally, a 36 per cent increase from a year earlier.

Even so, it is aiming to deliver 20 per cent more EVs in 2024, which would take it to 3.6 million units, BYD chairman and president Wang Chuanfu told investors at a conference last month. That is significantly slower than the 62 per cent growth it recorded in 2023, as overcapacity and a price war plague the Chinese car market.

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