China's EV market: BYD vs Tesla




A lot of publicity this month surrounds China's BYD topping Tesla in the global new energy vehicle stakes in the final quarter of 2023. However, what was not widely discussed is the intriguing success story of Elon Musk's company in the world's toughest car market.

Thanks to the enormous size of the Chinese domestic market and high levels of government support, BYD reported selling a record 526,000 battery-only vehicles in the final quarter of 2023 and just over 3 million sales for the year as a whole (both battery and plug-in/hybrids). Most were for the domestic market, while some were exported.

Tesla delivered a record 484,500 electric vehicles in the last three months of 2023 and just over 1.8 million for the year as a whole. This still left Tesla as the world's largest battery-only car maker, with BYD selling just over 1.6 million.

Both results were impressive achievements that underline their leadership in China and globally.

Hidden away in the avalanche of figures in China in the past two weeks was another story - just as interesting. Tesla remains China's leading exporter of EVs, especially battery-powered models.

For the 2023 full year, new vehicle sales in China rose by 12% year on year to 30.094 million units (including conventionally powered, battery, and plug-in/hybrids - NEVs), surpassing the 30 million mark for the first time. Official industry figures released Thursday showed production and sales of NEVs reached 9.58 million and 9.49 million units in 2023, surging 35.8% and 38% year on year, respectively. NEVs had a 2023 average market share of 31.6% (and topped 37% in a couple of months).

Domestic sales totaled 21.93 million passenger vehicles for the year, marking the third year of growth. Battery-powered vehicles had 23.5% of the domestic market, and plug-in hybrids had 11.8%.

China's car exports (including conventional and so-called new energy vehicles or NEVs) hit a record high of 4.1 million units in 2023 and well over 5 million when trucks and buses are included. This represented a 58% increase from the 3.11 million vehicles in 2022 and double the 2.02 million in 2021.

The growth surge was propelled by exports of new energy vehicles (NEVs), which soared by 77.6% to more than 1.2 million units last year. Exports of battery-powered electric vehicles jumped by 81%, while shipments of hybrids increased by 48% year on year.

While most car producers did well, the best performers were Tesla and BYD in that order, which not too many analysts and commentators mentioned.

In 2023, BYD's exports grew by 334.2% to 242,765 units (including battery and plug-in hybrids). Tesla only produces the Model 3 and Model Y at its huge plant in Shanghai, with retail sales in China totaling 603,664 in 2023 (up a solid 37%), while exports rose by 27% to 344,078, all being battery electric vehicles (B-EVs). The Shanghai plant produced 947,742 Tesla vehicles in 2023, still more than half the company's global output, which was 1.845 million.

BYD is poised to pass Tesla this year, with just 101,000 units separating the two, and Tesla constrained at its Shanghai plant, which is running close to the near million unit capacity.

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) expects China's NEV sales to reach 11.5 million units in 2024, while total auto exports are tipped to hit 5.5 million units.


Name 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.