SHANGHAI — Sales of electrified vehicles have surged in China for years. But until recently, it remained unknown who was buying many of them.
But a new research project led by Beijing-based news website Sina.com discovered that a big chunk of the EVs automakers claim to have sold have ended up in their fleet and mobility operations.
Sina.com conducted the research along with two groups: ChinaEV100 — a Beijing industry trade group whose members include a wide range of domestic EV makers and suppliers, and Ways Information Technology Co., a Guangzhou market research firm.
The research covered electrified passenger vehicles sold in China in the first 11 months of last year.
During the period, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reported that roughly 886,000 battery EVs and plug-in hybrids were sold across China.
But the Sina.com-led research found that 685,000 such vehicles were delivered to retail customers in the period.
What happened to the 201,000 EVs in the industry association's sales tally? They were shipped by auto manufacturers to their fleet units.
Several domestic Chinese carmakers have established car-sharing and ride-hailing subsidiaries whose fleets are mainly composed of EVs sourced from their corporate parents.
For example, BAIC Motor Corp. launched car-sharing subsidiary BAIC Mobility in April 2017. By the end of last year, it had delivered 30,000 electric cars to the subsidiary.
After incorporating its ride-hailing unit, Caocao Zhuanche, in May 2015, Geely Automobile Holdings has supplied more than 27,000 electric compact sedans to the unit.
Global carmakers have also joined their Chinese peers in deploying electrified vehicles under new mobility units.
In December, BMW launched ride-hailing services in the southwest China city of Chengdu, becoming the first foreign car brand to do so in the city.
A fleet of 200 BMW 5-series sedans, half of which are plug-in hybrids, has been dispatched under the service.
In 2018, electrified-vehicle sales in China for the first time topped 1 million, reaching 1.26 million, a jump of 62 percent from a year earlier.
The surge in sales of electrified vehicles — backed by subsidies — has created a financial burden and lower revenue for the government.
To ease the revenue shortfall, the government plans to wind down subsidies for EVs and plug-in hybrids by the end of 2020. That will make it difficult for automakers to market the vehicles to consumers.
China's carbon credit program, which went into effect this year, requires passenger-vehicle manufacturers to expand their electrified-vehicle production.
Because of the policy changes, more carmakers — domestic or foreign — will have to rely on their car-sharing and ride-hailing affiliates to absorb electrified vehicle output.