China’s electric vehicle market continued to trend upwards in September, with year-to-date sales already surpassing last year’s total of 3 million, according to the latest figures compiled by the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA). However, the growth rate of overall car sales in China hit its lowest point in the last two decades owing to an economic slowdown, the industry group said.

Why it matters: The industry-wide sales figures released Tuesday further indicate a broader recognition among Chinese consumers of locally-made EVs, as well as a rising trend of Chinese automakers growing their international business.

  • Retail sales of new energy passenger vehicles, mostly all-electrics and plug-in hybrids, soared by 82.9% in a year to around 611,000 units in September, bringing the total sales number for this year to nearly 3.9 million units as of last month, according to CPCA.
  • Meanwhile, the overall industry reported a monthly growth of only 2.8% in new passenger car sales in September, reaching its lowest level since 2002, as the pandemic hit some of the most populous provinces, such as Sichuan, weakening demand.

Details: Last month, domestic auto majors, such as BYD and Geely, enjoyed a 67% share collectively in the passenger car market, up 9.2% from a year earlier, while those numbers for both younger EV startups and Tesla declined to 14.6% and 12.7%, respectively. The share of the market for traditional overseas carmakers further narrowed by 3.3% from a year ago to only 5.7%, CPCA figures showed.

  • BYD ranked top with an annual growth of 144.3% to reach more than 191,000 EVs last month, taking nearly 10% of China’s auto market. It was followed by FAW-Volkswagen and SAIC-Volkswagen (two joint ventures of the German carmaker) at 165,000 and 122,000 automobiles, respectively.
  • Geely reported its September retail sales of passenger cars increased by 24.4%  from last year to around 109,000 units, followed by Changan at roughly 107,000 units. Zeekr, a premium EV unit of Volvo’s parent company, delivered 8,276 vehicles last month, up from 7,166 units a month earlier. Changan is set to begin delivery of its first car model under the Avatr marque with partner Huawei in December.
  • Meanwhile, Tesla China achieved a new record by selling 83,135 vehicles, of which 5,522 were overseas exports, bringing the year-to-date number to 483,074. The US automaker has an annual capacity of over 750,000 vehicles at its Shanghai facility, according to its second-quarter financial report.
  • Chinese EV startup Li Auto delivered 11,531 plug-in hybrid crossovers last month as production of its second model, the L9, began to ramp up. Nio recorded a monthly delivery of 10,878 vehicles, with its new crossover ES7 making it to customers since late August.
  • However, the numbers for Xpeng Motors declined 18.7% year-on-year and 11.6% month-on-month to 8,468 units, as the EV maker faces stiff competition from bigger names such as BYD in the mainstream EV segment. The company also reduced the prices of its first premium crossover, the G9, just two days after launch.

Context: The CPCA has maintained its sales projection of 6.5 million new energy vehicles (NEV) this year, with EVs expected to make up 28% of the country’s new car sales. The central government previously set a sales target of 25% of all new car sales to be NEVs by 2025.

  • Nearly 14.9 million passenger cars, including internal combustion engine vehicles and EVs, were handed over to customers from January to September, a bit higher than the 14.5 million units during the same period of last year.
  • Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the CPCA, said he expected China’s general car market to recover with “explosive growth” over the last two months of this year, buoyed by easing Covid restrictions and tax breaks for vehicle purchases.

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