SUV Sales Soar, EV Sales Slump In China


SUV sales are soaring in America, but they are going strong in other parts of the world as well. On the other hand, sales of electrified cars in China are disappointing. That’s largely because they are all sedans, a vehicle style that Chinese customers are turning away from. China is pushing hard to make electric cars mainstream. In China’s crowded cities, it is impossible to register a car without first proving there is a space available to park it. Then and only then does the registration process begin.

BYD Tang leads electric SUV sales in China

EVs have first priority. People who buy conventional cars have to enter a lottery to get a registration, a process that can take up to 5 years. Imagine buying a  conventional car today, then making payments and paying taxes and insurance on it until 2022 before you could drive it. Despite generous cash subsidies to encourage people to buy so called “new energy” vehicles, SUV sales in China have surged 21% to 2.4 million units in the first quarter of 2017 while EV sales have increased a barely noticeable 4% to 55,929 during the same period.

“It’s tough for someone with an EV to come and take away market share from SUVs,” said Ben Cavender of China Market Research Group. Chinese drivers say they are wary of the unfamiliar technology’s reliability and cost. In other words, they are just like American consumers who are skeptical of electric and plug-in hybrid cars. The Sierra Club says US manufacturers and dealers have done a poor job of explaining the technology and the benefits of driving on electrons rather than molecules.

The new car market in China is the largest in the world, but has shown signs of slowing down lately. Sales were up 15% in 2016 but are only projected to grow by 1.7% this year based on the numbers from the first quarter. In total, SUV sales now account for 40% of the market while sedans sales slipped 5% from the same quarter last year.


At the Shanghai show, the industry’s biggest marketing event in China each year, every global and Chinese brand plans to display at least one electric concept car alongside its latest SUVs and sedans. GM will have the Buick Velite — a restyled Chevy Volt — on its stand. Buick also sells a hybrid LaCrosse in China, a car that is largely based on the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.


Volkswagen will announce its electric vehicle plans for China and unveil an electric concept car. Honda will showcase its NeuV, a futuristic concept car the company hints might get an electric drivetrain. BYD sells all electric vehicles to taxi and bus fleets in China and abroad and hybrid SUVs and sedans to Chinese consumers. Last year, BYD sales in China totaled 100,183 vehicles, helped in large part by the popularity of its Tang plug-in hybrid SUV. Tesla was second in the China market with 76,230 vehicles sold.

It’s hard to understand why the SUV craze and the plug-in hybrid/electric car push haven’t merged yet. Somehow, almost all the world’s manufacturers have been caught flat footed by the extraordinary demand for SUVs. With the exception of the BYD Tang, there are precious few SUVs with electric motors available anywhere, although several like the Jaguar I-Pace are coming in a few years. Maybe when shoppers have a choice of affordable electric SUVs, the switchover to electric cars will finally begin. Maybe.

Source: Yahoo Finance


About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Epicurus

    I wonder what Volt sales would have been if it had been an SUV.

    • Steve Hanley

      Isn’t THAT an interesting question! Chevy is said to be introducing a Volt based small SUV in China this week. Search for FNR-X here at Gas2.

      • Epicurus

        My guess is that it is China which pushed the production of this SUV. China likely has more foresight than GM.

  • kevin mccune

    No sooner then the skies begin to clear a bit , the “Big Chokers” resurge .

  • trackdaze

    Isn’t the byd tang an electric SUV one of the biggest sellers?

    March has ev at over 2% of market I thought.

    • Steve Hanley

      The BYD Tang is a top seller,

  • kevin mccune

    There is absolutely no reason we couldn’t have a AWD Volt based SUV , you are getting me riled up Epi , (in a good way ) takes people like you to think outside the box a bit . Doesnt anyone see that E drive is a natural for AWD?

    • Epicurus

      I wish I could figure out how GM management thinks. Do they want to sell EVs and PHEVs or not?

      • kevin mccune

        Remember what these companies did to our first electric mass transit systems? Apparently they love the infernal .

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    Well the Mitsubishi Outlander is a PHEV SUV and it sells well, not sure if it is on sale in the US yet though.

    • Steve Hanley

      You mean the plug-in hybrid all wheel drive SUV that Mitsu has been promising since 2014? Naahhh, not here yet. Mitsubishi was afraid it would be too popular and decided to wait until there was more competition from other manufacturers……

  • Rick Danger

    With all the e-bikes sold in China, I have a hard time believing the Chinese people are “unfamiliar” with electric powered vehicles.