Skip to content

The 6 EV Giants Leading China‘s Electric Mobility Charge

China‘s dominance over global electric vehicle (EV) sales is undisputed. Over 3.3 million EVs zipped across Chinese roads in 2021 constituting a staggering 53% of total worldwide sales according to EV-Volumes. And 2022 appears on track to eclipse last year‘s numbers if the frenetic pace of adoption persists.

What‘s driving this EV boom is aggressive policy action by the Chinese government combined with enthusiastic consumer appetite for next-gen mobility. National and regional subsidies still bolster EV purchases while purchase taxes on ICE vehicles remain high. Fuel efficiency standards are leapfrogging Western norms, hastening the shift to electrification. Hundreds of domestic automakers have jumped headlong to leverage this supportive atmosphere and capture share.

Among these though, 6 EV behemoths stand apart in scale and success today. Collectively they sold over 2 million electric cars just within China last year, firmly cementing their dominance. Not just that, they are also spearheading Chinese EV exports worldwide.

So let‘s analyze what enables these electric mobility mavericks to shift gears and speed ahead of competition!

1. SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW) – The EV Star for the Masses

Kicking off the list is the Guangxi-based 3-way joint venture SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW) that shot to fame primarily on the back of a single micro EV – the Hongguang Mini.

Over 500,000 Wuling Hongguang Mini EVs found homes in 2021, making it China‘s highest selling EV two years running now. In fact, it was the country‘s second highest selling car overall last year after the gasoline-powered Volkswagen Lavida! No surprise then that SGMW itself comfortably leads total EV volumes in China with over 10% segment share.

Year SGMW EV Sales
2017 57,805
2018 246,722
2019 2019
2020 304,913
2021 577,000

And there‘s good reason for this astounding success. Costing between $4,500 to 5,500, the tiny Wuling Mini has brought EVs within reach of lower income households like never before. Sure range is just 120 to 170 miles but that sufficiently covers urban commuting needs. What about safety in that sliver of a car? Relax, the Mini‘s five-star C-NCAP crash test rating matches Tesla‘s Model 3.

2022 opened even stronger with over 210,000 Hongguang Minis finding homes in the first 5 months itself. And the introduction of a beefier motor bumping power up to 47 hp hints at even greater appetite. Beyond this halo product, SGMW is doubling down across segments with the Baojun KiWi EV and Baojun E300 compact SUV launching recently.

Having captured the budget end, where does SGMW go next? Insiders suggest an electric microvan is under development. And China‘s draft rules proposing simplified licenses for sub-25 mph micro EVs plays perfectly to SGMW‘s strengths. Expect even more compelling options to bolster last mile mobility soon.

2. BYD – From Batteries to Brilliant EVs

Beginning as a humble battery business in 1995, BYD (Build Your Dreams) has metamorphosed into one of China‘s EV elite through relentless innovation. Their lineup led domestic EV sales last year by a huge margin crossing nearly 600,000 units – that‘s over 15% of ALL passenger electric cars sold globally in 2021! And BYD appears on track to repeat the feat this year as well with almost 320,000 EV sales in the first half itself, commanding close to 30% market share.

Year BYD EV Sales
2017 113,669
2018 248,561
2019 219,506
2020 310,162
2021 597,652

The numbers speak for themselves but what‘s truly driving BYD‘s vertical ascent is their phenomenal R&D turning out cutting-edge technologies. Their self-designed Blade battery frameworks packed with Lithium Iron Phosphate cells promise unparalleled longevity – over 2 million miles and 5,000 charge cycles. And highly integrated modules engineered for flexibility enable smart capacity-range configurations.

BYD EVs like the Han, Song Pro and Tang today deliver specs matching or exceeding well-established brands. The Tang SUV for instance zips to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds rivalling Tesla‘s Model Y on speed for almost half the price tag. And packed with a host of sensors and driving assistance features, BYD is clearly looking ahead at what the future demands.

Having honed expertise through unrelenting focus exclusively on EVs, BYD finds itself perfectly poised for global expansion. Initial overseas forays with their electric bus fleet has now transitioned into overseas EV deliveries starting. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and key European markets all set to receive BYD‘s new Atto 3 small electric crossover in 2023. And this could just be the thin edge of the wedge paving their entry into Western markets.

3. GAC – Giants Have Big Appetites

State-owned GAC seems to perfectly encapsulate China‘s insatiable EV appetite. They Recoiled past half a million electrified vehicles last year and are gunning for over 1 million by 2025!

Unlike other state automakers though, GAC has strategically nurtured a diverse portfolio encompassing everything from microcars to luxury rides. 18 independent brands including Aion, EMPOWER and Voyah drive home their electric vision through compelling products led by capable R&D.

For 2022 and beyond, GAC has its sights locked on segment supremacy. Their Aion Hyper GT electric supercar hopes to eclipse NIO‘s EP9 topping out at a scarcely believable 403 km/h or 250 mph! The retro-futuristic EMPOWER X1 micro EV channels cute transport pods from sci-fi movies while the Voyah i-Landing SUV pushes interior comfort.

And massive investments like the upcoming Guangzhou Advanced Manufacturing Industrial Park pumps up production capacity significantly. This massive 6.37 square km facility focuses on EVs and already started limited production of Aion models in late 2021. Once complete in 2023 however, capacity will skyrocket to 600,000 additional cars yearly, potentially pushing GAC‘s total annual EV volumes to over 1 million units. Not just that, industry observers estimate R&D spends crossing $15 billion through 2025 as GAC charges ahead with electrification.

Clearly then, this giant has just begun unlocking its seemingly unlimited growth potential. We foresee exciting times ahead as they rev up new milestones in China‘s EV revolution!

4. Chery – Going Global with Quintessentially ‘Chinese‘ EVs

Another homegrown automotive giant from 1997 eyeing exports in earnest is Chery. Though initially focusing on conventional cars, Chery too has now firmly embraced an electric future. And the blueprint seems starkly clear – make EVs that are unabashedly Chinese!

Their QQ Ice Cream micro EV encapsulates this strategy perfectly. The cutesy tallboy shaped city runabout hoped to delight Gen Z drivers on launch in 2020. And the market responded enthusiastically with over 80,000 cumulative sales across 3 sundae-themed variants already! In 2022, the QQ Ice Cream continues finding over 5,000 happy owners monthly cementing itself as Chery‘s EV star now.

But more significantly, success in China is spurring global ambitions as well. Chery has already exported over 700,000 vehicles to countries across South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East so far. Building on this, they plan to reenter Australia where sales ran from 2011 to 2015. This time though, Chery intends leading with an EV onslaught covering all major segments.

Their uber-affordable QQ Ice Cream EV obviously makes the cut. But it will be joined by the compact eQ1 SUV, funky Oriole hybrid coupe and Korole all-electric crossover among others. This diverse range straddling budgets and preferences hopes to resonate better with overseas buyers. And adapting innovations like battery swapping for markets like Australia demonstrates Commitment to success.

Chery has historically trodden with caution around making overtures to Western buyers. But with rapidly improving EV capabilities matching European and American rivals, the automaker finally seems ready to take on the world!

5. NIO – Luxury and Performance to Challenge the Global Elite

Nicknamed China‘s answer to Tesla, NIO brings ambitious plans targeting the premium market worldwide. Their vision – make luxury EVs matching if not exceeding the best European marques on technology, quality and performance. And they are charging ahead full speed towards this goal already!

Just the numbers confirm NIO‘s exceptional performance thus far. Cumulative production just crossed 300,000 vehicles this year, three quarters the lifetime volumes Tesla achieved in over 15 years! 2022 could see up to 60,000 more high-performance electric SUVs and sedans (ES7, ES8, ET5, ET7) assembled as capacity ramps up aggressively.

Delving deeper, we see bold innovation fueling this astounding growth. NIO‘s models boast crisp exteriors packing ultra modern cabins rivaling a private jet! Standing out is their signature Nomi AI assistant proactively monitoring drives through an industry-first in-car camera. Augmented reality HUDs, sporty air suspensions and unreal acceleration further drive desirability.

But range anxiety alleviation truly epitomizes NIO‘s edge over other luxury EV rivals. Their pioneering battery swap stations can replace depleted packs with fully charged ones under 5 minutes! This paradigm shift dramatically boosts EV usability through instant charging without significant infrastructure requirements.

Currently over 1,000 swap stations exist across China satisfying owner needs. And an ambitious international rollout starts reaching Europe where 100 stations will open by 2025. Performance, luxury and ultra fast charging – NIO seems all set to take its Chinese EV formula global!

6. Li Auto – Extended Range EVs Ride Upstart Momentum

Closing out our list is 6-year old upstart Li Auto aiming squarely at the booming Chinese SUV segment. They burst into the spotlight last year with deliveries crossing 90,000 units leaning heavily on a single debut model – the full-size Li One. This gas-electric hybrid crossover seemingly resonates perfectly with preferences thanks to its SUV styling and range extender technology.

As a plug-in hybrid, the Li One allows owners to tap into the best of both worlds. It packs a beefy 100 kWh battery for an 80 km / 50 mile electric range that covers most urban commutes emissions free. But for longer trips, a small 1.2L gas generator kicks in seamlessly adding a further 800 km / 500 miles. This unique hybrid architecture therefore eliminates range anxiety, explaining the runaway success despite just 1 model so far.

2022 however heralds an inflection point as Li Auto aims for dizzying growth riding new models. The flagship full size L9 SUV launched in July targets premium domestic segments leveraging options like automated parking, 3rd row seats and an extra large battery. September then brought the smaller L8 SUV opening up compact segments crucial for volumes.

R&D also focuses on evolved hybrid technology and improved intelligent driving capabilities across upcoming models. And having commenced exports starting with Norway this year, global ambitions simmer as well.

So while currently overshadowed by larger domestic rivals, insiders see Li Auto on the cusp of explosive expansion. Their emerging lineup covering multiple preferences, unique EV value proposition and openness to overseas markets makes this plucky upstart one to watch!

China EV Outlook – Where Are They Headed Globally?

Analyzing the strategies and success of China‘s largest EV players makes their local dominance apparent. Impressively though, global ambitions remain equally strong across the board.

NIO and BYD look furthest down the path having already commenced European sales. Both are also exploring North American and other developed markets now. Li Auto too has made early moves exporting to Norway with its unique range extender EVs.

Chery, GAC and SGMW though have largely focused on developing markets so far. But maturing R&D capacity could see them attempt entering Western markets more confidently moving forward.

Clearly the Chinese EV train has left the station and is careening worldwide at breathtaking speed already. Given domestic expertise both in EV technology and scaled manufacturing, success overseas could mirror the astounding volumes witnessed locally so far. Undoubtedly the 21st century seems destined to be driven electric – just Made in China!