China’s electric vehicle (EV) sales soared in 2021, bucking the national trend of slowing auto sales. Local automakers have shown strong competitiveness against overseas counterparts. However, industry players may face new challenges: a looming price war among competitors will likely reduce profits, a UBS Securities analyst said on Tuesday.

Why it matters: There might be greater supply than demand in the Chinese EV market this year, since consumption could be reduced by slowing economic growth amid the recharged pandemic, Paul Gong, head of China auto research at UBS, told reporters on Tuesday.

  • An easing chip shortage may also help EV makers return to normal auto production this year, Gong said. He warned that an intense “price war” would push the prospect of profitability further away for automakers in the short term.

Details: Still, the rise of domestic EV makers will be “the way of the future” in China, as local players have generally “achieved greater progress” in the development of products and technology than foreign auto majors, according to Gong (our translation).

  • UBS projects cautious optimism in its outlook for the industry over the long term. It expects that, compared to its 2021 projection of 3 million vehicles, China’s EV sales will increase by 35% to more than 4 million vehicles this year. Sales could grow to 7.05 million units in 2025, according to UBS. 
  • Sales of new energy vehicles, which include all-electrics and plug-in hybrids, increased by nearly 160% year-over-year to 3.52 million units in 2021, according to a statement published by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Wednesday.

Read more: Drive I/O | Auto China 2021: A banner year for Nio, Xpeng, and Li Auto

Context: The number of passenger electric vehicles sold in China surged 169% year on year to nearly 2.99 million units in 2021, according to figures published Tuesday by the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA). That figure beat the estimated 2.4 million units the industry group made in June.

  • Tesla China sold a record 70,847 locally-made vehicles in December and saw its total 2021 sales reach 320,743, taking the third spot in the list of China’s top-selling EV makers. BYD dominated the market with sales of 584,020 vehicles, followed by SAIC-GM-Wuling with 431,130 cars, CPCA figures showed (in Chinese).
  • US-listed Chinese EV trio Nio, Xpeng, and Li Auto are among the top 10 sellers, each achieving deliveries of nearly 100,000 vehicles. German auto giant Volkswagen sold around 130,000 passenger EVs, more than doubling its 2020 total, according to CPCA.
  • CPCA raised its forecasts for China’s NEV sales, including passenger and commercial vehicles, by over 10% to 6 million units in 2022 from the previous year. The association added that China will maintain leadership in the global EV race.

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