Chinese consumers stock up on EVs as subsidy deadline looms

New-energy vehicles, which include electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell autos, will account for about one in five of new car sales

A visitor takes a selfie among cars on display during the International Motor Expo in Hong Kong in December 2021. EPA
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Welcome to 2022 from Beijing. After the explosive growth last year in China's electric vehicle market, what could this year have in store for consumers?

The short answer: more of the same. Sales – which more than doubled last year and should end up topping three million once December’s figures are added – are forecast to increase to six million, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

New-energy vehicles, which include electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell autos, will account for about one in five of new car sales.

A big reason behind the expected sales surge is the looming end of government subsidies for EV purchases, which will not be available from 2023 on. Introduced 12 years ago to support the development of the industry, the subsidies have slowly been phased out, but are still worth as much as 12,600 yuan, or about $1,200, on purchases up to 300,000 yuan.

A growing preference for greener, cleaner vehicles also contributed to the EV sales surge. And EVs are also seen as smarter than internal combustion engine cars, offering features from autonomous driving to in-car karaoke.

Homegrown upstarts Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto have established themselves as serious contenders, while SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile’s Hongguang Mini has proved popular with price-conscious young drivers.

New EV owners may also want to beat potential price rises driven by parts shortages and rising raw material costs.

On New Year’s Eve, Tesla increased the price of Model Y vehicles made at its Shanghai factory by more than 20,000 yuan and bumped up the cost of its Model 3 by 10,000 yuan – the second rises in about a month. Other car makers including Polestar, FAW-VW and Leap Motor have also increased prices or set a date for removing factory incentives.

That is playing on the mind of Beijing resident Zhang Xin, who has decided to trade in his petrol car for an EV.

“The car purchase funding is much less now than a few years ago, but it is still some serious money,” the 45-year-old technician said. “I just hope I can get one before the cost goes up any further.”

Still, the year ahead will not be without challenges, most of them familiar. The continuing chip shortage and coronavirus disruptions to supply chains and manufacturing.

BYD last week said production at its Xian facility had returned to normal levels after being hit when the city of 13 million was plunged into coronavirus lockdown in late December.

Geely said an outbreak of coronavirus cases in the city has not slowed output at its factories in Ningbo, but said that supply chain efficiencies and deliveries might be affected.

Updated: January 11, 2022, 4:30 AM