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China NEV Sales for 2019 H1 + July and August

We held off the 2019 H1 summary for a while in order to get a better idea about the impact of sharply reduced NEV subsidies from July onwards. The overall Chinese car market has been in decline for 14 consecutive months now, while the sales of NEVs continued with rapid growth, at least until June. From January to June, ICE-only vehicles lost nearly 2 Million sales (-15%) compared to 2018 H1 and NEVs increased by 260 000 units (+66 %) for the same period.

Since then, the tide has changed for NEVs as well: July NEV sales were off by -2 %, including imports and LCVs; preliminary results for August show a 13 % decline year-on-year. In summary, the changes in Government support were as follows: NEVs with an e-range below 250 km (up from 150 km last year) do not qualify for subsidies anymore, those with longer e-range have subsidies cut by around 50 %. Direct local subsidies expire, in favour of charging infrastructure investments. The new rules became fully effective in July; following a 3 month transition period with partial subsidy cuts. Some OEM have indicated to lower list prices to compensate, still, NEVs above 250 km e-range can become up to 10 % more expensive for buyers. Those under 250 km range, mostly mini- and small cars, will become much less attractive as NEVs.

Ahead of the July cuts, demand was pulled into June, which has 1/3rd higher sales than normal. The weak July and August sales partly reflected the payback for the June rush. In addition, the supply of several low-range BEVs was reduced or halted, either for further battery upgrades, or infinitely. Smaller makers of EVs in the lower price categories we affected the most during H1, but in July and August, losses have also spread among the more resilient players.

The forecast for 2019 has a lot more uncertainty than last year. Year-to date August, plug-in sector sales in China are still up 44 % compared to 2018, but in decline for the first time since 18 months. Makers of cars with less than 250 km e-range must upgrade batteries yet another time to keep them in the market. Above that barrier there is now only little incentive for EV makers to escape subsidy cuts by e-range upgrades. To make things worse, new cases of battery fires (less than 100 incidents, but still) have disturbed the confidence of consumers and legislators. The overall Chinese car market is still in reverse; the rates of decline are lower now, but they compare to the weakening monthly data of 2018 H2.

The fundamentals, like Government targets for EV deployment, ICE restrictions, EV portfolios and charging infrastructure investments speak for further NEV growth, but it will we slower than the 75 % rsp 79 % of the previous two years. Our outlook for 2019 is a volume of 1,5 to 1,6 million NEVs, (Cars, SUVs, MPVs and LCVs) in a light vehicle market of 25,6 million, 7 % lower than 2018. The best estimate, 1540k,  converts to a NEV share of 6,0 % and a growth of 33 % over 2018.

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Reducing dependence on subsidies

Subsidy reductions in China are not a new thing. The Government has risen the bar for approvals several times to push the EV and battery industry towards longer e-range and more advanced battery technology. The picture shows the stepwise reductions of central subsidies, which were considerable. Until 2018, EV makers have mostly succeeded to avoid cuts by battery upgrades and amazingly fast changes in product portfolios to meet new requirements.

The new regime goes further and enforces targets to consolidate the auto industry to fewer and more competitive players, which are not depending on generous state support. In addition, direct local subsidies from provinces and cities were dropped and replaced by support for the necessary charging infrastructure. Times will get tougher for makers with insufficient capital / development funds and sub-standard models.

second China NEV Sales for 2019 H1 + July and August image
third China NEV Sales for 2019 H1 + July and August image

Impact on NEV sales by OEM's so far

Year-to-date, growth in NEV sales is still positive for most OEMs. Among the larger players, SAIC, Chery, Hawtai and JMC lost sales, while others, notably Great Wall (new ORA brand) and VW (new Passat PHEV, Tiguan PHEV and e-Lavida, all China made) multiplied their sales compared to last year. Also Toyota, Nissan and Nissan have introduced locally produced models, which explains their growth from next to nothing last year. None of the EV start-ups (e.g NIO, WM) made it into the top-10, yet.

Until August, overall NEVs were still 60 % higher than Jan-Aug last year, but the slump in July and August has also affected more resilient makers like BYD, BAIC, Geely, Changan and JAC, which posted double digit %-losses in volume compared to July-August sales last year.

On model-level, 2019 sales were highly erratic and can hardly be explained by consumer preferences. Sales of big-sellers like e.g. the BAIC EC series and BYD e5 were on and off and on again, revealing the struggle of Chinese EV makers to adjust portfolios and production to new requirements and restrictions. We expect this turmoil to calm down in Q4, but we do not see the sector returning to the relentless 60-100 % growth rates of previous years.

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