“Fifteen years ago the logo sold the product, but many people are now proud and happy to get into a Nio or an Xpeng,” said Tu Le, founder of Sino Auto Insights. “Digital natives are much more receptive to local domestic brands than their parents.”
For all the hype around local EV brands, it’s worth noting that Tesla itself claimed second and third spots in the EV sales charts behind only the Wuling Mini EV, with both the Tesla Model Y and Model 3 selling more than 120,000 units apiece. But while Tesla flew the flag for foreign brands in China, there was less love for Volkswagen’s new ID-series models, which had a slow start but have gained momentum.
VW conservatively estimated 80,000-100,000 ID sales for 2021 but official figures for the full year have fallen short at just over 70,000. This couples with a sizeable fall in sales of domestically produced cars, down from an average of 264,495 units per month in the second half of 2020 to just 174,384 in the five months leading to December 2021. This will be a critical year for the brand’s EVs in China, especially with new competition from fellow foreigners Ford and Cadillac with their Mustang Mach-E and Lyriq SUV.
No analysis of the 2021 figures would be complete without recognising the incredible impact of the Wuling Mini EV.
Launched in mid-2020, the car has allowed young Chinese consumers onto the road like nothing else since the VW Beetle or Ford Model T. Spurred on by a starting price of just over the equivalent of £4000, almost 400,000 Mini EVs found a home in China in 2021 and they have proved especially popular with women under the age of 35, a difficult market to capture. A mind-boggling array of customisation options, and a soon-to-be-launched cabrio version, have sustained intense interest throughout the product’s life cycle. “The Wuling Mini EV is the little train that could. It started off really hot and hasn’t slowed down. It’s almost a transactional buy since it’s so cheap”, said Tu Le.
“People forget that there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese people who live in cities lower than Tier 2,” Tu Le added, referring to the unofficial hierarchy of Chinese cities based on GDP, politics and population. Only five cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing – are considered Tier 1 cities, while a further 30 make up Tier 2, according to South China Morning Post. In total, more than 160 cities in China house over a million inhabitants, and the Mini EV has found a clear route into the hearts of many.