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Idling Tesla left in BYD’s slipstream

The pressures on Elon Musk grew this week after it became known that even an all-time record monthly electric vehicle sales performance in the huge Chinese market in November couldn’t stop Tesla from falling further behind local EV giant BYD.

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At the same time, Chinese media reports and analysts claimed Tesla was having trouble moving vehicles, with stocks of unsold EVs being directed to local buyers with at least two price cuts and a cheap insurance deal on offer.

There were also reports that staff hours are being cut at the Shanghai factory to shorten shifts and try and rebalance production with demand.

While Tesla foreign orders reportedly remain strong (from countries like Australia) the company is said to be struggling with weak demand domestically.

Tesla still had the biggest selling vehicle, its Model 3, but collectively it is now second behind BYD.

Although total passenger car sales fell in November, retail sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs) rose 58.2% year-on-year to 598,000, and wholesale shipments jump 70.2% to 728,000 units (4,000 less than the provisional figure of 732,000).

The wider car market saw a 9% fall in passenger vehicle sales to around 1.65 million. The fall saw sales of conventionally powered vehicles dip despite purchase subsidies still in place (but due to end December 31, unless extended).

NEV sales are now projected to reach 6.5 million units by the end of this month.

The CPCA’s figures show that retail sales of NEVS accounted for a record 36.3% of total vehicle sales last month and 35.9% on a wholesale basis. Outside of the small Norwegian market, that’s the highest penetration rate so far reported by renewable vehicles in a major car market anywhere.

Tesla said it sold a record 100,291 China-made vehicles in November, a single-month high but that still left it in a distant second behind the rapidly growing Chinese giant, BYD.

BYD said on the weekend that it sold more than 113,000 battery electric vehicles (or BEVs) among the more than 230,000 new energy vehicles (NEVS) it sold

Tesla’s record deliveries were up 89.7% from the 52,859 vehicles sold in the same month last year and 39.9% more than the 71,704 vehicles delivered in October.

Both figures include exports – Tesla shipped 2,196 vehicles to Australia last month for delivery to local customers.

That made Tesla the 10th most popular make in Australia last month and responsible for about half of all electric vehicle sales in this country. It also outsold Honda, Nissan and Suzuki.


From January thru November, Tesla has sold a record 655,069 China-made vehicles, up 62.8% from 402,231 in the same period last year. These have included vehicles made for overseas markets such as Australia and southeast Asian countries. Deliveries to Australia have totalled more than 17,000 since June.

January to November, BYD’s NEV sales were 1,628,297 units, up 219.4% from 509,838 units in the first 11 months of 2021.

Year-to-date sales of passenger BEVs were 799,201 units, up 193.3% from 272,493 units in the same period last year – and 144,000 more than Tesla.

It also sold 823,580 passenger PHEVs in the first 11 months, up 260.5% from 228,429 units in the same period last year.

BYD sold 230,427 new energy vehicles (NEVs) in November, a new all-time high and the third consecutive month of over 200,000 units.

That’s up 152.6% from 91,219 units in the same month last year and up 5.8% from October’s 217,816 units.

Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) totalled 113,915 units, up 146.9% from 46,137 units in the same month last year. and from 103,157 in October.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) were 116,027 units, up 163.8% from 43,984 units in the same period last year.

In November, BYD sold 12,318 NEVs in overseas markets, up 29.3% from 9,529 units in October.


In terms of pure EVs, Tesla is still ahead globally – January thru September saw it sell or deliver a total of 908,573 units. It doesn’t release monthly data (a car industry group does that in China).

Adding in the 171,995 reported sales in China for October and November and Tesla’s global sales total 1,080,568 units, compared to 2021’s 936,172 units.

In Australia in November, BYD moved into second place behind Tesla in EVs with 845 units in its first month of sales.

Besides the buyers of the vehicles from the two giants and others such as Nio, the winners from this boom are lithium and other renewable metal and battery material producers in China, Australia, Chile, Canada, parts of Africa and the US whose new subsidy regime is starting to drive a significant surge in investment.

An important point about Tesla’s Shanghai plant – Tesla has been producing cars for export in the first half of each quarter, and cars for local delivery in the second half.

A breakdown in October’s 71,704 of deliveries from Tesla Shanghai in October shows (according to Chinese media) 54,504 exported and 17,200 vehicles delivered to local buyers.

But those reports of unsold vehicles, production and price cuts ahead of the mooted end of one key price subsidy for new energy vehicles in China strongly suggest the company is facing growing problems in meeting the challenge from BYD and from hesitant local consumers.

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.

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