Just a year ago, Nio, Xpeng, and Li Auto faced a cloudy future. All three had burned through hundreds of millions of investors’ dollars and were beset by lackluster sales. Most observers thought they had yet to hit bottom. Not anymore.

Despite the lingering impact of the pandemic on China’s automotive industry, 2021 has been a fantastic year for Tesla's major Chinese challengers. The three companies all reached their 100,000-vehicle production milestones, racked up big war chests from new investors, and recently set records for their vehicle deliveries. Their cars are going mainstream in major domestic cities, according to Xpeng President Brian Gu, as internal-combustion vehicles and legacy automakers are increasingly being regarded as outdated.

The Chinese trio, all listed in the US, not yet profitable, but all poised for stronger growth in the coming year, have become the poster children for the country's EV revolution. Despite a 20% cut in subsidies this year, the world’s biggest EV market in September witnessed an unexpected growth rebound, as the NEV (new energy vehicle) penetration rate surpassed 20% of all new car sales for the first time. 

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Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen