When considering XPENG, it’s worth noting that colleagues working in R&D make up more than 40% of their workforce, “over 4,000 employees, more than twofold our staffing at the end of 2020”, adds Gu. XPENG also claims to be the only global auto brand other than Tesla to develop their key software technology 100% in-house. A former Tesla employee once claimed that “Tesla is not an automotive company, it’s a tech company that builds cars,” and it’s this tech-driven focus in the native EV brands that is capturing the attention of young Chinese consumers who no longer see foreign brands as the must-have item.
“Fifteen years ago the logo sold the product, but many people are now proud and happy to get into a NIO or an XPENG,” says Tu Le, founder of Sino Auto Insights, adding that, “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 over 120,000 units apiece. But while Tesla flew the flag for foreign brands in China, there was less love in the market for VW’s new ID-series models, which had a slow start but have gained momentum.
VW forecast a conservative estimate of 80-100,000 ID series 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. 2022 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 Beetle or Model T. Spurred on by a 35,000 RMB starting price (just over £4,000), almost 400,000 Mini EVs found a home in China in 2021 and they have proven especially popular with women under 35 years old, 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 lifecycle. “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”, says Tu Le.