Tesla’s Chinese challenges

By Glenn Dyer | More Articles by Glenn Dyer

Tesla's sales problems in China are not going away, and it continues to lose ground against its big Chinese rival, BYD, which is now outselling Elon Musk’s company in the core product: pure battery-powered vehicles.

After a weak start to 2024, Tesla saw a strong rebound in March, only to see a slide in April, according to figures from China’s Passenger Car Association (CPCA).

In fact, the fall last month was so large that sales actually dropped back to levels close to February, when the Chinese New Year (February 10-17) holiday interrupted sales and production.

Tesla sold 62,167 China-made vehicles in April. That figure includes exports from China to overseas markets and was down 18% from 75,842 a year ago and down a large 30% from March's 89,064 (the second highest monthly figure on record) and only just above the 60,365 sold in February.

The slide in April means that for the January-April period, Tesla China sold 283,043 vehicles, down more than 7% from 305,164 in the same period a year ago.

A breakdown of local deliveries and exports is not available at this time, but Tesla's pattern is to produce cars for export in the first half of the quarter and for the local market in the second half.

And this weakness matters for Tesla because its Shanghai plant is not only its largest, but also its most efficient and profitable.

Tesla put its Shanghai plant on a five-day week a month or so ago, cutting hours from 6.5 days.

Rival BYD sold more than 312,000 electrified vehicles (called NEVs in China or new energy vehicles). Of those, 134,635 were pure battery-powered (up 29% from a year earlier), but plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) sales jumped 69% to 177,583.

Analysts say that trend has been apparent so far this year for BYD and indicates it is selling more vehicles into foreign markets where there are few charging facilities (BYD is claiming that new technology in its new PHEVs will push maximum range out to 1,000 kilometers).

In fact, out of April’s total number, 41,011 BYD plug-ins were sold overseas (13% of the total volume). This is a new record with a massive 177% year-over-year growth rate. Exporting from China appears to be BYD's main focus right now. It is suggested Russia is one of these markets.

In the January-April period, BYD sold a total of 936,446 vehicles – a rise of 24%. BEV sales were up 18% at 434,579, and PHEV sales were up 29% (from a year ago) at 501,867.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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