Why some Chinese are buying local electric car brands like Nio — instead of Tesla

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  • CNBC spoke to Chinese consumers who bought local electric cars instead of Tesla and found out what drove their purchase decisions: price and driving range.
  • Here are some anecdotes on why Chinese consumers bought electric cars from Tesla competitors Nio, Li Auto and Xpeng.
  • Local government policy support for license plates and charging infrastructure is another factor.

BEIJING — Chinese consumers thinking about whether to buy Tesla’s electric cars or local alternatives have two things at the top of their minds: price and driving range.

That’s according to anecdotes gathered by CNBC — conversations from around the country that do not represent qualitative research. But the comments shed light on what some consumers care about in China, the world’s largest auto market.

U.S.-listed Chinese car start-ups Nio, Xpeng and Li Auto saw deliveries surge last year despite a slump in the overall auto market and the coronavirus pandemic. Shares of the companies soared in 2020, but pulled back slightly this year.

To be clear, Tesla is still the market leader for high-end electric vehicles in China. During a quick check at the start of the evening commute one day, CNBC found 11 Tesla cars passing by, along with two Nio SUVs, one from WM Motor and Xpeng’s latest P7 sedan.

Here’s what some Chinese consumers say factored into their decision to buy a local electric car.

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First, price was a major consideration.

Chen Yingjie, 42, said he bought Li Auto’s Li One SUV in April 2020 for about 300,000 yuan ($46,000) after realizing it would cost him about twice as much to buy a similar car from Nio with all the specifications he wanted.

Nio’s starting price is low, but there are many features that come at an additional cost, Chen said. The Shanghai resident had previously bought Xpeng’s G3 in 2019, and later a BYD electric car for his father in June 2020.

Part of Nio’s strategy is selling many car features via a subscription model. For example, the company launched a “battery as a service” plan last year that charges customers a monthly fee for battery power — similar to a regular fuel charge for a traditional gas-powered car.

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