China's BYD tops global electric-car production for third year in a row

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BYD Yuan. Photo by Indian Autos Blog.

BYD Yuan. Photo by Indian Autos Blog.

Try asking any electric-car owner or advocate, or for that matter any member of the public, which automaker sold the most electric cars last year.

In North America, the answer will likely be Tesla, or possibly Nissan or Chevrolet. But we'd bet you hear Tesla most often.

The correct answer for global sales of plug-in electric cars, however, was the same last year as it was in 2016 and 2015.

DON'T MISS: Nissan, Tesla surpass 300,000 electric cars; one started later, one did it with a single model

That company is BYD, the Chinese carmaker that also makes battery cells and has been the most aggressive among all makers in its push into cars that charge from grid electricity.

The company (it stands for "Build Your Dreams," they say) is an anomaly in China: It's privately held, rather than being owned partly by a state or city government.

Its 2017 sales numbers are contained in data released last month by the Chinese Passenger Car Association and summarized on the Gasgoo China Automotive News site last month.

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

Denza electric car, 2014 Beijing Auto Show

BYD led Chinese sales of so-called New Energy Vehicles, essentially meaning those with plugs, by selling 113,669 such vehicles last year, comprising both battery-electric and plug-in hybrid models.

The BYD total includes roughly 4,700 Denza electric cars made through its joint venture with Mercedes-Benz. While it sells in a few other markets, the vast bulk of its deliveries are in China.

All BYD vehicles are highway-capable vehicles, and it's worth noting that China plans to end its incentives for electric vehicles that cannot operate at a sustained speed of more than 100 km/h (62 mph).

READ THIS: China's BYD built more plug-in cars in 2016 than any other maker (Feb 2017)

That is likely to cut sales of low-speed and neighborhood EVs substantially, including for the global second-place finisher.

At 103,199 registrations, that company is BAIC, whose E-Series vehicle will have to be upgraded in future to meet the new high-speed requirement.

Another Chinese company whose sales are almost entirely in its home market, BAIC edged out Tesla by less than 100 units. The Silicon Valley automaker cited a total of 103,122 deliveries for 2017.

BYD e6 electric taxi in service in Shenzhen, China

BYD e6 electric taxi in service in Shenzhen, China

Following BYD, BAIC, and Tesla were BMW at 97,057 units (the majority of them plug-in hybrids) and then Chevrolet, at a much lower 54,308, comprised of Bolt EV battery-electrics and Volt plug-in hybrids.

Nissan, Toyota, Roewe (SAIC), Volkswagen, and Zhidou made up the balance of the global Top 10, with varying mixes of plug-in hybrids and battery-electric models.

BYD may be slightly better-known in the U.S. than other Chinese electric-car makers because it certified its E6 hatchback for limited testing in fleet use over four separate model years (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016).

CHECK OUT: 2016 BYD e6 electric taxi gets range increase to 187 miles

The company has said little about the results of those tests, however, and has been quiet on the prospect of retail car sales for several years.

Despite ambitious plans to offer electric passenger cars in the States, however, BYD has confined its sales to electric transit buses—where it has seen success—and now large electric commercial trucks.

The company may also be notable because famed investor Warren Buffet has owned 10 percent of the company since October 2008.

 
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