China electric vehicle sales surged 154% last year, with Warren Buffett–backed BYD topping Tesla

January 7, 2022, 9:15 AM UTC

Electric vehicle sales in China skyrocketed 154% last year, despite a global slowdown in auto sales owing to the crunch in semiconductor supplies, as more consumers opt for greener cars. According to industry analyst ZoZo Go, electric vehicle (EV) makers sold a total of 3.3 million units in China in 2021, up from 1.3 million in 2020, and 1.2 million in 2019. According to Seeking Alpha, EV sales worldwide increased 69% in the first 11 months of the year, with China outpacing global growth.

The Shenzhen-based BYD, backed by Warren Buffett, grabbed pole position, shipping 603,783 units—up 218% on the year before. Meanwhile Tesla came in second place in China last year, selling an estimated 240,000 vehicles during 2021, accounting for 26% of the Texas-based company’s global sales.

Although China’s other leading domestic EV makers trailed Tesla and BYD in terms of total unit sales, Li Auto, Xpeng, and Nio all reported explosive growth in sales last year. Sales at Beijing-based Li Auto soared 177% to 90,491 units; Shanghai-based Nio increased sales 109% to 91,429 units; meanwhile sales at Guangzhou-based Xpeng leaped 263%, shipping over 98,000 units.

ZoZo Go CEO Michael Dunne says China’s exceptional growth in EV sales last year shows that the market has “finally got real traction” after a decade of the government stimulating industry growth through subsidies for EV consumers and companies.

Beijing will remove subsidies for consumer EV purchases next year, making the overall cost of EVs more expensive. But analysts expect the domestic market to already have enough momentum for sales to continue apace. Dunne predicts China EV sales will top 6 million units in the year ahead, which would be an 81% annual increase.

EV sales growth must continue in order to satisfy government demands. Beijing has mandated that by 2035 all new-car sales must be either electric or hydrogen-fueled, making the phaseout of combustion engines inevitable. Consumers are already showing appetite for cheaper EV models.

Wuling Mini EV—a brand little known outside China that’s the product of a joint venture between General Motors and the Shanghai-based SAIC Motor—was one of the bestselling cars in China last year. The tiny, no-frills, three-door electric vehicle retails for roughly $4,500 and is nearly the same size as a Smart car, which was designed to be as long as a regular car is wide, so that drivers can park perpendicular to the curb.

Wuling Mini sold 378,000 units last year—far more than Tesla’s China sales—but because the simplistic car is in a different consumer segment, the model is often overlooked in sales rankings.

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