BYD dethroned Tesla as EV leader in the last quarter of the year, selling 526,409 all-electric cars, while the U.S. automaker delivered 484,507 vehicles. Both companies beat their annual estimates as BYD surpassed 3 million and Tesla 1.8 million sold cars in 2023.
BYD had a record fourth quarter, selling 942,651 cars. 55% were fully electric (BEV), and 45% were plugin hybrids (PHEVs). The company ceased production of ICE vehicles in April 2022.
The Shenzhen-based automaker sold 3,023,679 electric vehicles in 2023, up 62% from 2022. About 52% were BEVs – 1,574,804. Tesla delivered 1,808,581 in 2023, up 38% from 1,313,851 the previous year. For cumulative sales in 2023, Tesla still holds the crown; however, BYD will most likely remain the leading EV maker through 2024.
BYD was founded as a battery company, joining the car-making bandwagon in the mid-2000s. Backed by Warren Buffet, it is often compared with Tesla or even called Tesla without drama. However, the two auto giants couldn’t be more different regarding product and business philosophy. For example, while Tesla uses an online direct sales model, BYD relies on its massive dealer network for its international expansion and in the home market.
And despite lots of voices that the dealership model is the concept of the past, BYD pampers its third-party sellers. For example, the automaker will rebate 2 billion yuan (USD 280 million) to its dealers this month as a reward for achieving the company’s goal of selling 3 million vehicles in 2023. For each sold car last year, the store will receive 666 yuan (USD 93).
Unlike Tesla, the interior of BYD cars is more traditional. With many physical buttons and a more conventional setup, don’t expect top-tier ADAS, overwhelming computing power, or high-end autonomous driving capabilities. BYD’s R&D focuses mainly on batteries and delivering a lot of car for a reasonable price.
BYD is also an extremely vertically integrated company. The company’s founder and CEO, Wang Chuanfu, wants everything in-house. BYD owns its lithium mines, makes its own cells and batteries, and owns car-making plants, shipping carriers, and car insurance companies.
Wang Chuanfu still has something in common with Elon Musk – he is a radical cost cutter, pushing efficiency high, car prices low, as low as CFO can digest. Its latest Tesla Model Y competitor, BYD Song L, received an instant discount of 30,000 yuan (4,200 USD) on launch. The SUV has been pre-selling for 219,900 yuan since November but was launched with a starting price of 189,900 yuan (26,600 USD) in December. Song L has a range of up to 662 km CLTC and a maximum power of 517 hp with dual motors.
In 2024, BYD will push more into the uncharted waters and possibly more Tesla way. The company established two new EV brands in 2023 – YangWang and Fang Cheng Bao – which adopt a direct sales model and its own sales network. BYD also started investing in self-developed ADAS and autonomous driving systems, abandoning the agreement with Baidu Apollo.
Fang Cheng Bao confirmed it deployed 154 showrooms and direct-operated stores in 84 cities in 2023, while YangWang planned to open 90 stores in 40 cities before the year’s end but hasn’t yet confirmed it reached the target.
BYD is preparing a new model offensive in 2024, launching a new SUV series, Sea Lion or Yuan UP entry-level EV. Sea Lion 07 will be the first model of the new series and will start deliveries in the first half of the year. The new BYD Song L SUV received a great perception as the car sold 10,003 two weeks after the launch. Moreover, fat-margin EVs will hit the market under the YangWang brand – luxury sedan U6 and U9 dancing supercar, while Fang Cheng Bao will unveil two more SUVs – Bao 3 and Bao 8.
On the other hand, Tesla is rumored to start mass production of the updated Tesla Model Y, codenamed Juniper, in April in Giga Shanghai. Model Y is Tesla’s hero in China as Model 3 sales were massacred in 2023 by a swarm of 200k yuan (USD 28k) segment electric sedans (BYD Seal, BYD Han, Xpeng P7i, Neta S, Rising F7, …), the Model Y sales held the ground.
In 2024, China’s price war, which Tesla started in 2022, will continue and might see the first automakers starting to lose wheels as the EV prices in China are at rock bottom. Only players with the deepest pockets will be able to survive. BYD and Tesla are certainly among the winning groups, and it will be exciting to watch their competition and what Tesla has up its sleeve against BYD getting the upper hand. We will keep an eye on that.