Tesla and China’s BYD: Kings of the Electric Vehicle Market

byd qin
Source: BYD

The results for plug-in electric vehicle sales for 2015 are in, and there are a few new kings of the global market. Tesla nailed down the sales title for an individual car with its Model S luxury sedan topping the charts both in the U.S. and around the world. As for the top-selling EV maker, that honor goes to Chinese company BYD, which moved over 60,000 plug-in cars, most of them in its home country.

Tesla nailed down the title with its wide margin in the U.S. market, topping the second place Nissan Leaf by about 8,000 sales in America. Around the globe, the Leaf kept a much closer pace and was within 1,000 units of the Model S at the end of November, according to the EV Sales blog. The Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid was in third place going into the last month of the year.

The Chinese BYD E6 electric car is displayed
BYD E6 | STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

BYD had much less trouble locking down the title of top plug-in car seller for 2015. According to InsideEVs, the Chinese company backed by Warren Buffett had a banner month in December when it sold over 10,000 EVs. By the start of the month, BYD had already opened up a lead of over 5,000 sales on second-place Nissan, which include electric car sales of Renault as well as its namesake brand.

Looking at the top 10 globally through November, BYD’s top seller was the Qin, a plug-in hybrid sedan that held down fourth place ahead of the BMW i3. While that was the Chinese automaker’s most popular model of the year, the emergence of a plug-in hybrid SUV changed the dynamic.

tesla model s
Source: Tesla

According to the InsideEVs data, BYD moved 5,503 models of the plug-in hybrid SUV Tang in December. That performance topped all but seven plug-in models on the U.S. market for the entire year of sales and blew away Tesla’s record December in America.

Checking out these stats, you would have to make BYD the heavy favorite to repeat in 2016. The runaway success of the Tang should ensure the brand’s success in the plug-in market to the point where 100,000 sales is not an outlandish target for the Chinese company by year’s end. (By comparison, the entire U.S. plug-in market ended up below 120,000 sales in 2015.) As for Tesla, a year of both Model S and Model X on the market bodes well for its prospects.

Looking at the results from 2015, we again note the huge success of a utility vehicle with plug-in hybrid capabilities overseas. In 2016, we’ll finally see a reasonably priced model hit the U.S. market when the Outlander PHEV arrives late in the summer. For now, the biggest EV market on earth is being powered by a domestic star: BYD.

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY