China EV Manufacturing Bubble Faces Getting Bludgeoned

There are now 486 EV manufacturers in China, triple from two years ago. Most will disappear.

New vehicle sales in China plunged 14% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers today. For the whole year 2018, new vehicle sales had dropped 4.1%, the first such drop in modern data going back to 1990.

Despite this historic slump, sales of “electrified” vehicles (battery-electric EVs, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles) soared 85% in March compared to a year ago, and 110% in the first quarter, to nearly 300,000 units: 227,000 EVs, 72,000 plug-in hybrids, and 273 fuel-cell vehicles.

Last year, sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids had surged 62% to 1.255 million vehicles, reaching a record 5.3% of total vehicle sales. Of them, a whopping 14,467 were Tesla’s, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, giving it an EV market share of a minuscule 1.1%.

Sales of electrified vehicles in China are on track to reach 1.6 million units this year, for a share of around 7% of new vehicle sales – on the basis that sales of vehicles powered by internal-combustion-engines (ICE) will continue to slump, while sales of electrified vehicle are surging.

The EV industry in China has been powered by government subsidies. China has been heavily promoting EVs for two reasons: To help reduce often enormous air pollution in big Chinese cities; and to create the world’s dominant EV industry.

Chinese government policies are also attempting to create the world’s dominant EV battery-cell industry. And so far, so good. Here are the largest makers of battery cells for EVs:

  1. China’s CATL.
  2. Japan’s Panasonic
  3. China’s BYD, which also makes EVs.
  4. Korea’s LG Chem
  5. Korea’s Samsung.
  6. through 10: Chinese manufacturers.

But the subsidies that caused a tsunami of private-sector investment to pile into the battery-cell boom in China are being whittled down, and the weaker battery-cell makers are expected to be culled.

And so too, the government is now reducing the subsidies for electrified vehicles, with some subsidies that were $7,500 per vehicle are being cut in half.

This comes at a bad time for the EV industry: Though sales have boomed, EV startups have mushroomed even faster.

There are now – take a deep breath — 486 registered EV manufacturers in China, having more than tripled in two years. They have attracted billions of dollars in investment.

EV startups span the spectrum, with everyone and his dog unrelated to the automotive industry joining the fray. Last year, online retailer Alibaba and iPhone maker Foxconn led the 2.2 billion yuan ($347 million) funding round for the EV startup Xiaopeng Motors. China Evergrande Group, the country’s second-largest real estate developer, announced grandiosely in March that it “will strive to become the world’s biggest, and the strongest, electric vehicle group within three to five years.”

The EV startups in China that have raise the most funds, according to  Bloomberg, include:

  • NIO: $4.1 billion
  • WM Motor: $2.3 billion
  • Xiaopeng Motors: $1.3 billion
  • Youxia Motors: $$1.3 billion

The startup manufacturers combined promise to build a manufacturing capacity of 3.9 million EVs a year.

Good luck filling that capacity – because the established Chinese giants have already switched part of their production to EVs. Some, such as BAIC and Geely (which also owns Volvo), have announced that they will switch just about totally to electrified vehicles over the next few years.

In addition, the global giants, such as GM and Volkswagen AG, and their Chinese joint ventures are all being forced by the government to build EVs in China, and they’re rolling out dozens of models.

Overall declining or stagnating vehicle sales even as a lot of manufacturing capacity is being put in service makes for a toxic mix of malinvestment and overcapacity. EV manufacturing overcapacity is just part of it. This has dogged other industries in China as well.

If the world ever needs another illustration of a bubble that will blow up and take down lots of investors with it, it’s the EV manufacturing bubble in China. EVs will continue to develop and EV sales will thrive, but not nearly enough for the 486 EV makers currently building manufacturing capacity in China. They will experience a classic shakeout with only a few dozen left over at the end.

Auto manufacturing is a capital-intensive activity, and startups require enormous amounts of investor money to gain traction. As the subsidies are being trimmed and adjusted, and as overcapacity rules, weaker players will run out of money first and shut down. This will go through layers and layers and may take down some established companies too. Industry shakeouts, after an investment and capacity bubble like this, are brutal.

“We are going to see great waves sweeping away sand in the EV industry,’’ Thomas Fang, a partner and strategy consultant at Roland Berger in Shanghai, told Bloomberg. “It is a critical moment that will decide life or death for EV startups.’’

Many of these startups are founded or funded by people with an internet or technology background who’re not necessarily fully aware of the enormous investment required in auto manufacturing, Fang said.

“The investment needed for actual production is several times of that they’ve spent on marketing and production development,’’ he said. “That’s why we are seeing some of them delaying mass-production plans.’’

Sales of EVs – small as they still are compared to sales of ICE vehicles – will continue to grow. But the investors that are funding the EV startups in China face getting bludgeoned by the effects of massive overcapacity in the industry that had been encouraged by government subsidies and policies.

Panasonic froze its expansion and investment plans for the Gigafactory after deliveries of Teslas plunged in Q1. Read…  Carmageddon at Tesla-Panasonic Gigafactory in Nevada and Shanghai

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  52 comments for “China EV Manufacturing Bubble Faces Getting Bludgeoned

  1. curiouscat says:

    China is running out of roads to drive on and places to park the vehicles. Add to that a limited number of plates are available for new cars in cities like Shanghai. Plates are offered monthly on a bidding basis. Success in bidding is about 5%. Successful bids are in the neighborhood of $10—12,000.

    • chillbro says:

      It is easier to get the plates for an EV.

    • Glenn Mercer says:

      I don’t disagree, but thought you might like to see a summary of the latest Chinese government draft of proposed actions to re-stimulate vehicle demand. Quite an interesting mixed bag (from Bernstein):

      “The Plan draft contained a wide range of measures aimed at stimulating auto demand, including: (1) a relaxation of annual license plate quotas in cities with restrictions, (2) exemptions from these restrictions for families who do not currently own a car, (3) a halving of the car purchase tax for rural car buyers, on cars below 1.6-litres, (4) subsidies encouraging switching from gasoline cars to EVs, (5) increased support for auto financing, especially in lower tier cities, (6) further relaxation of rules limiting the use of pickup trucks in urban areas, (7) a mandate that all taxis, ride-hailing fleets, and municipal vehicles must be EVs, (8) a change in the tax code to mean cars are taxed where they’re sold versus where they’re produced, and that said tax income is shared with regional governments, and (9) personal tax credits for EV purchases.

  2. Howard Fritz says:

    Stepping aside from vehicles for a second one can appreciate much of China’s industry is subsidized in one way or another. Which is why you can purchase items on eBay for less than a dollar with free shipping from China.

    Surely this can’t go on indefinitely.

  3. Lion says:

    Just thinking ahead. From what I’ve read the forthcoming issue of manufacturing and then recycling old EV batteries and its impact on the environment, looks to be a toxic bubble waiting to pop in the future. Maybe similar to the Asbestos industries. When it came time for them to clean-up and address the pollution issues, they were mostly gone. The costs are now born by Governments. The below article mentioned using old EV batteries for home energy back-ups. Is this really a future booming industry. This likely won’t be an issue for America as, other than Musk, we don’t appear to be manufacturing EV batteries. But wonder if China is trading one toxic issue for another.

    On a side note, I visited Busan Korea this past winter. Beautiful city. Our guide mentioned how lucky we were that the air was clean. She mentioned that when the winds blow normally Busan is covered with smog coming from Beijing. I looked at a map, Beijing is a long ways off.

    • Javert Chip says:

      Being to Busan is about 800 miles, the same distance as LA to Alamogordo, NM (where I lived as a kid in 1959-60).

      LA smog easily makes it to New Mexico, and LA has MUCH CLEANER air…

    • KF6vci says:

      “Clean air”? Micro particles of plastic are even found in the mountains of the Pyrenaies (?).

      • and Prozac is found in rainwater. We should feel better about that

        • wkevinw says:

          Rule #1 of Toxicology: The Dose Makes the Poison.

          The amount of pollution in the environment today (in developed economies), is much lower that decades past. Such info is easily available via internet search.

          For most US residents, the environment is much cleaner today due to 1. wealth caused by 2. better technology and 3. regulations put in place in the ’70’s. (the first round of any action is always the most effective- recent regulations have far less positive impact.)

  4. Escher says:

    The solar PV industry in China went through the same process of government backed expansion frenzy followed by a massive culling of the herd.
    Consequence: China controls > 2/3rd of the worlds solar manufacturing capacity.
    I see the same thing happening with EV batteries.

    • Nicko2 says:

      They control around 60% right now.

      • CreditGB says:

        Thanks to A123 for doing the costly heavy lifting in developing the highest tech in the battery field. Much US tax money spent there, then bankrupted. Assets and the technology sold to Chinese firm Wanxiang at cents on the dollar. All approved by CFIUS in 2013 with zero restrictions and zero security concerns. OF COURSE THEY HAVE CONTROL! Yes, I am shouting….

        Wonder how our highest, taxpayer funded technology ends up in the hands of the Chinese who then beat us over the head with it??? Same back in the Clinton administration….anyone remember Loral Corp? Advanced missile guidance was the technology they got much the same way. Likely many similar in past 30 years. Just follow the money.

  5. ilioholo says:

    Wolf, many thanks for the clarity you provide for this and all your other articles. I truly am grateful, appreciative and thankful. You make reading enjoyable. And the way you organize and express otherwise complex data allows me to remember more.

    I foresee great strides being made in the coming months by Chinese battery manufactures which will, I believe, propel China-built EV auto sales to even higher levels than what’s currently predicted.

    On the clogged streets and highways of Beijing, I see more and more EVs of every make and model zipping through traffic. Their license plates (boards) are distinctive, eye-catching and unconventional: (lime green) chartreuse bordered (at the top) by white.

    (From “To wear or display either color [lime green or yellow chartreuse] in large amounts shows inward, unconventional thinking. You’re probably intuitive with a strong need for self expression and uniqueness, more than likely a strong motivation to be creative in some way. Choosing chartreuse in some form probably suggests a person with an open personality. open minded, imaginative with many interests. Variety in work and life is very important. … Influences of Chartreuse: Chartreuse can increase physical and mental/social energy and enthusiasm. It can encourage us to go outside and enjoy nature and wildlife. Chartreuse can increase positive thinking and optimism)”.

  6. Rosebud says:

    Sounds like The Brew Pub Problem has come to battery EV manufacturers.

    Brew Pubs cant make it on their own product. They are partnering with other Brew Pubs to sell their product. Meanwhile the Brew Pub will ship their product to the most highly profitable outlet, or the outlet where they have an iron clad agreement to supply. Go into a Brew Pub and the beer in the back is often Not Available. But they will sell you a beer brewed down the road

  7. 2banana says:

    Ok. Now that there is just funny!


    “Many of these startups are founded or funded by people with an internet or technology background whore”

  8. 728huey says:

    Why does this feel a lot like the original Internet dot Com bubble of the late 1990’s, or more realistically the original auto bubble of the 1920’s? Back them there were hundreds of car manufacturers, but by the Great Depression most of them vanished. A few got gobbled up by Ford and GM and became brands for them (Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Lincoln, Mercury ). But from the looks of this, there are an awful huge number of EV companies that don’t even have the slightest clue o what it takes to make cars, and they would even exist without the huge government subsidies being pumped in from Beijing.

  9. WES says:

    With my technical background I find it hard to get too excited about EVs.

    An ICE only has to convert it’s primary energy source 2 times to move itself.

    An EV has to convert it’s primary energy source 7 times to move itself.

    We currently drive ICEs because they are the most energy efficient system we have.

    That politicians want to now suspend the laws of science and finance to speed up introduction of EVs, defies common sense.

    The stumbling block remains the battery and EV system inefficiencies.

    To go totally EVs, first we will need to either create more wealth or accept becoming poorer.

    Second we will need to produce more electrical energy than we currently do. That means more pollution from primary power plants.

    I don’t see any mention being made about tackling this increased pollution although this is the best and most cost efficient place to tackle the pollution! About the only temporary advantage that could be gained is to place these power plants away from or down wind from big cities.

    All that will be gained by EVs is placing the pollution in someone else’s backyard!

    But then again maybe that is the goal!

    • Jeff Spicoli says:

      ICE engines aren’t that efficient. Even with the conversions, EVs are way ahead.

      On top of that, EVs recapture energy from braking.

      • Lars says:

        And ICE`s don`t need heat pumps or resistance heating because the cooling fluid does that virtually for “free”, you just need a fan to circulate the air.

        What is almost never mentioned in BEV-production is the immense energy put in to manufacture the batteries, from lithium and cobalt production etc. to finished product. A Tesla 100 KWh battery for instance will have emitted about 17 tons of CO2 before being fitted in the car. You can drive an ICE car a hell of a lot of miles before a BEV starts to be “greener”.

        Having said that I believe electric cars are the future, but with the resource limits on lithium and cobalt + grid worries etc. I seriously think we will have to come up with other solutions that the lithium battery tech. In the end it will come down to which technology in total uses energy and resources more efficiently, and my bet is on hybrids with relatively small batteries.

        • char says:

          There are no resource limits for lithium.

          Plugin hybrids have a gas-station problem. If all cars where plugins than gas-stations would have to few customers and they also would all come at the same time. It is why Hydrogen is IMHO already death.

        • Gandalf says:

          You forget the cobalt needed in lithium batteries. I would bet hugely that China’s lithium battery companies couldn’t care less about sourcing “conflict free” cobalt, i.e. NOT from the Congo, which produces 60% of the world’s cobalt, most of which goes into lithium batteries.

          You can make your own hydrogen gas at home! I did, when I was about 12 years old, with a battery, wires, and upside down test tubes to trap the gas, using just tap water with some table salt added.

          Ok, it was just about a test tube full, but the technology for scaling this up and and pumping the gas into a refillable tank like propane gas is super low tech.

          You could make your own hydrogen gas and store the tanks at home, just like propane! See the future now?

          Way easier than making lithium batteries and spending hours recharging them

        • char says:

          Super low tech? We are talking about high pressure Hydrogen in a lightweight tank. You should look at old videos how BYD build their lithium batteries. That was low tech.

    • proppo says:

      Wes, with that kind of “technical background”, well, I’d better not say but there might be an opening as a carnie somewhere. It’s been done Wes, and you are WRONG.

      Study after study says that running one power plant at 35-65% PEAK efficiency – nearly 100% of the time, is more efficient than running tens of thousands of ICEs at ~20% PEAK efficiency – some of the time under certain conditions, when the CEL isn’t on, etc – even with 10% line losses and 3-10% inverter and battery losses, etc, etc, etc. And of course, none of it includes the incredible costs of keeping oil secure.

      But answer this Wes with that technical background, if it were more efficient, why does gas cost 2-4 times more than equivalent electricity per mile (in places with the average costs)?

      • Nicko2 says:

        My gosh, most ICE simply WASTE up to half their fuel (thus creating pollution) simply being stuck in traffic.

        Technology forever marches forward – solar, wind, regenerative braking, new battery technologies and platforms (scooters ect…). With the increasing consequences of runaway climate change, transition to electric vehicles is the only solution.

    • MCH says:

      All those EVs are going to need the E to move them. I suppose that’s where the large number of nuke plants are going to come in. The alternative is to do more solar panels, which will start the process of polluting Inner Mongolia and end with wherever those waste panels when they eventually die are going to get shipped to.

      Well, at least we will be curbing the CO2 problem, even if we turn around and produce a few thousand cancer villages afterwards. I do wonder where all of those solar cells will end up.

      • Nicko2 says:

        Wind power is more economical than solar now.

        • Gandalf says:

          Wind power kill lots of birds….an often neglected not so green side effect of windmills. Birds aren’t smart enough to avoid either airliners or those fan blades

          Aneutronic fusion from plasma beam linear accelerators is my prediction for the ultimate unlimited power of the future. Read up on it.

          That giant ITER tokamak is already an evolutionary dead end. There’s just no easy way to extract electrical energy from a tokamak.

        • char says:

          Aneutronic fusion sounds 50 years into the future, So only 20 years after they have solved normal fusion.

          ps ITER is more about large superconducting magnets than fusion. I think everybody working in the field has taken the joke that fusion power will always be 30 away as gospel.

        • Gandalf says:

          Look up Tri Alph Energy Technologies. From Wikipedia:

          Main financing has come from Goldman Sachs and venture capitalists such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., Rockefeller’s Venrock, and Richard Kramlich’s New Enterprise Associates.
          As of July 2017 the company reported that it had raised more than $500 million in backing.
          The Copernicus device involves deuterium–tritium fusion and is expected to attain net energy gain in the first half of the 2020s

          This company is not a government funded boondoggle, as ITER is, mostly. Venture capitalists are not in the business of investing for a return to happen in 50 years.

          P.S. – ITER happened because tokamaks were at the time of its inception the most promising design that had produced the most amount of fusion in the laboratory. So the idea was that by making a bigger tokamak with the biggest possible superconducting magnets that magnetic confinement would get even better and net energy fusion would finally happen. That may or may not be the case as all sorts of weird things also happen as you scale up massively and the hot plasma finds ways to leak out and escape. But the biggest problem is that nobody has yet demonstrated a practical way to extract that fusion energy out of a tokamak, as the plasma fusion energy has to be trapped in that donut for continuous fusion.

          Fusion with accelerated plasma beams in a Field Reversed Configuration is configured from the start with an easy way to extract that energy while doing continuous fusion

    • Les Francis says:

      Thirdly. No thought has goner into power transmission reticulation.
      Domestic housing suburbs are wired up for “domestic” use. Imagine if every house had an EV which required charging every night.

      As it is. The war on coal and wanton and ongoing destruction of coal fired power stations has left some countries power grids vulnerable to load spikes.

      Domestic customers have been warned of load shedding in the event of hot weather conditions. AC units must be left off.
      How is that going to work if your EV needs charging for next days commute and there is no power available?

      I have worked on and installed DC power systems for 50 years.
      EV’s do not make sense.

    • drg1234 says:

      For China this is not a technical issue. It is a matter of geopolitical survival. China is vulnerable to a naval blockade of its tanker-supplied oil. They have alternatives for electricity.

      I have always seen the Chinese mega-investment into solar power through this lens. It really is just the Soviet-era command economy; the Chinese are, however, better at turning their brand of Communism into dollars

      • Nicko2 says:

        People still don’t get it….wind and solar is now cheaper than coal. ;)

        • Les Francis says:

          Sorry my friend. You may have been drinking the kool Aid.
          The war on coal has given an impression that solar and wind are cheaper than fossil. Reality is somewhat different.
          You wont be recharging any EV’s with solar or wind anytime soon.

    • robt says:

      Suspending the laws of science and finance (and history, and human nature) is the business of politics.
      They wouldn’t get elected otherwise. Reality doesn’t sell, but dreams do.

  10. R Davis says:

    As I have said many times – Lithium is the new gold.

  11. michael says:

    And then there comes Tesla. What could possible go wrong?

  12. New Jersey Guy says:

    Where are all the charging stations for these cars?

    My wife has a plug-in Honda Clarity hybrid and it is getting harder to find a available place to charge it when away from home. It’s easier to sell the car to an individual than to get a business to install a charge station.

  13. Jarhead says:

    Wolf – 3rd paragraph from the end, I think you made either a slip or a mistake :-]

  14. Cynic says:

    We certainly need a little light relief….

  15. The climate change debate will settle this, we can’t just move polluting industry when there is a global atmospheric pollution problem. Ultimately CC may have the unintended consequence of stopping excess central bank accommodation in the world economy.

  16. Wisdom Seeker says:

    The problem with the ICE-vs-EV debate is that there are massive externalized costs left out of all the energy, material pollution or monetary accountings. To get the accounting right one must factor in the full lifecycle & recycling paths of all the components, fuels etc. and the information simply isn’t available.

    ICE vs EV isn’t even a clean dichotomy, now that we have ‘real car’ hybrid vehicles like the Accord Hybrid. Still gas-fueled but with a modest amount of EV add-ons (offset by smaller gas engine), they deliver “same old” vehicle interior, 50-100% better fuel efficiency (45+ mpg in a family-size car) and actually better acceleration than pure ICE vehicles, and without the scheduling and other headaches of EV charging. Gas engine is off when idling, coasting regenerates the modest battery pack, and the EV add-ons pay for themselves ($1500) in about a year of driving.

    Basically any ICE-to-EV comparison should be comparing the best-of-breed in both cases, and the hybrids raise the bar in the ICE world quite a bit.

    If I was an automaker I’d be frantically designing a trendy crossover with a good hybrid system and aiming for 35-40 mpg in a vehicle that’s easy to get into (physically and financially…)

    • char says:

      This is what Volvo is doing with their plan that from next year all their new models will be plugin-in hybrid or battery.

      Problem for the plugin version is that the state (and people without a fuel burning car) don’t want cars burning fuel inside city limits. Also most states hate being dependent on the oil exporting countries. EV’s have a lot less demand for oil, even if all the electricity needed was generated by oil burning generators.

  17. Ervin Gazy says:

    This past winter I was viewing a traffic cam on I80 at the Donner Summit in California. I was about 20 degrees, snowing heavily and the cars and trucks were inching along. Driving an EV in that situation, well, if you had to travel you better have an ICE car in the garage. I can’t imagine battery technology ever being able to power a car through those conditions.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      People shouldn’t be driving across Donner Pass under those conditions anyway. This is treacherous. I hate it. I’ve gotten caught in the snow up there (rented ICE vehic). You can’t see crap. Lot’s of accidents — and they close the highway, and you’re done. You end up spending the night somewhere unplanned. When I go skiing up there, I always rent a car because I don’t want to take my own car up there (rear-wheel drive, terrible in snow). I’d do that too if I had an ICE vehicle. No biggie.

  18. Gandalf says:

    Two comments here,

    Regarding the coming shakeout in China’s EV makers – meh….

    China’s goal is to dominate the world in EV car manufacturing, no matter what. They did the same for cellphones and solar panels.

    Warren Buffet invested in BYD early on and has made a killing

    Also, seriously, hydrogen fuel cells are the way to go. Here’s one startup American company I’d rather be investing in if I could

    • BoyfromTottenham says:

      So Gandalf, where is the hydrogen going to come from, and how will it be stored, to power the fuel cell? Breaking the bond between H and O in water molecules takes a lot of electrical energy, which is a bummer. Then the hydrogen gas has to be stored, but its tiny molecules migrate (leak) through everything, and unless it is cooled to a liquid (at – 252 C / – 423 F!) it needs to be compressed at dangerous pressures to keep the storage volume within cooee of hydrocarbon fuels. Please feel free to invest in hydrogen technology, but I will decline, thank you.

  19. char says:

    Of those 486 companies there are a 100 or so that don’t plan to make cars but only supercars. That is not to difficult with electric cars. So the numbers are bad but not that bad

  20. yngso says:

    Incidentally, Tesla is another company trying to compete wih the big ones making automobiles. The big automakers are just getting started with EVs. If I were the Lone Musketeer, I’d start looking for a buyer, if any of the Tesla tech has an edge that is.

Comments are closed.