China is taking a big step in the Australian car market. Subscribe to Electric Vehicle News Bitesize Podcast for FREE to hear more!
China is fast becoming one of the biggest sources of new cars for Australian buyers as Chinese carmakers increasingly dominate sales of electric vehicles in their home market, potentially accelerating the transition away from fossil fuel transport.
According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries data, sales of Chinese-made cars in Australia totalled 122,845 in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 61.1%. In December, imports from China more than doubled from the previous year.
The surge made China the fourth-largest source of imports and narrowed the gap with larger peers. Cars from Japan remained dominant, accounting for nearly a third of the 1.1 million-vehicle market, despite a nearly 6 percent drop in sales for the year. Imports of 245,000 from Thailand and 159,000 from South Korea both increased by less than 10%.
Peter Griffin, the chamber’s communications director, said China was growing as an automaker, reshaping its traditional role as a maker of auto parts assembled elsewhere.
“Increasingly … we are seeing automotive brands manufacturing entire vehicles in China and the emergence of Chinese-owned car brands,” Griffin said. “More carmakers in the global automotive market means more competition, which is a win for consumers.”
For about a decade, China’s auto market has been the largest in the world. Local companies have become increasingly successful at home relative to global brands, aided by acquisitions of foreign manufacturers such as Volvo in Sweden or brands such as MG in the UK.
China is also emerging as a major auto exporter, with deliveries set to rise 54% to 3.1 million vehicles in 2022, according to Chinese financial news outlet Caixin.
Chinese conglomerates such as BYD, Xpeng Motors, Li Auto and NIO, backed by US billionaire Warren Buffett, account for 81% of domestic Electric Vehicle sales, putting them in a prime position to conquer overseas markets, according to a British financial newspaper Financial Times.
“Chinese consumers will buy about 8 million to 10 million EVs this year, up from record sales of 6.5 million vehicles last year and 3.5 million in 2021,” the FT reported, citing company and analyst forecasts. By contrast, 2023 Electric Vehicle sales in Europe were headed for 3 million and in the US only 2 million.
Australian Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said Australians were increasingly willing to buy Chinese-made vehicles, including electric vehicles. Well-known brands such as US Tesla and Volvo subsidiary Polestar source cars sold in Australia from Chinese factories.
Jafari predicted that the rise of Chinese automakers could accelerate the shift away from petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, not least because their lower-cost offerings could get more Australians switching to electric cars.
Sales of EVs in Australia more than doubled in 2022, he said.
“Certainly the Chinese market is accelerating towards electric vehicles,” Jafari said. “The next BYD model that’s coming is expected to be under $40,000 … so we’re seeing Chinese companies solving a lot of the challenges in terms of affordability.
“Chinese companies are innovating faster. They’re hungrier and they’re newer and they’re getting these things done, and are able to provide more affordable products at a faster rate.”
Toyota is one of the automakers set to lose market share in Australia.
The Japanese company has about 22 percent of the market but has been slow to adopt plug-in electric vehicles, preferring its hybrid technology that combines gasoline and electric motors. The first products, such as the bZ4X, are expected to be available in mid-2023.
But Griffin said Chinese automakers won’t have their way.
“In the short term we are likely to see continued growth in Chinese automotive manufacturing, particularly battery electric vehicles,” he said.
“However, as carmakers roll out more zero and low emission products, the manufacturing of battery electric, hybrid and plug in hybrid vehicles will increase elsewhere, reflecting the global nature of the automotive industry.”
No matter where you source your EVs from, the Australian market appears to be ripe for more.
“In 2022, every electric vehicle was sold out,” Jakari said. “It’s not about convincing Australians to want electric vehicles. They want them – it’s about providing one for them to be able to buy in the first place.”
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