China’s BYD overtakes Tesla to become world’s top-selling electric-car maker

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Tesla and BYD both set sales records in 2023 – and delivered close to five million cars combined – but the title of the world’s top seller of electric cars has changed hands.

Chinese car giant BYD dethroned Tesla to become the world’s number-one seller of electric cars in the final three months of last year as it continues its rapid global expansion.

Tesla retained its lead over the 2023 calendar year, reporting approximately 1.81 million deliveries – just ahead of its target of 1.8 million – compared to 1,574,822 BYD electric passenger vehicles sold.

However in the fourth quarter of the year (October to December) BYD took the number-one position for the first time, with 526,409 sales against Tesla’s “over 484,000” reported deliveries.

It is believed to be the first time Tesla has lost the global electric-car sales crown since it claimed the top spot from Nissan at some point in 2015 or 2016.

When sales of BYD’s plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) – which can drive on petrol or electric power – are included, the company reported 942,651 sales in the fourth quarter of 2023, or 3.01 million across 2023.

Sales of BYD electric passenger vehicles increased by 73 per cent last year – or 62 per cent when its hybrids are included – compared to 38 per cent growth for Tesla.

In 2018, BYD – which exclusively sells plug-in hybrid and purely-electric cars – reported 97,871 electric passenger vehicles as sold, compared to 244,920 Tesla electric cars.

BYD building its six-millionth hybrid or electric vehicle earlier in 2023.

The gap in annual sales between the two car giants has been as wide as 615,000 vehicles in 2021, after BYD and Tesla reported 320,875 and 935,950 electric passenger vehicle deliveries respectively across the calendar year.

BYD is believed to have placed among the Top 10 selling car makers globally in 2023, however many other global car giants have yet to publish their sales results.

It is also estimated to be China’s top-selling car maker last year, after overtaking Volkswagen – which has led the Chinese new-car sales race for at least 15 years – early in 2023. VW is yet to announce its final Chinese sales figures for calendar-year 2023.

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BYD dealers in China will reportedly be paid up to 666 yuan ($AU140) for each vehicle they delivered – even if showrooms missed their own sales targets – according to Chinese media outlets (via CNEVPost).

An updated Tesla Model 3 sedan was introduced late in 2023 in Australia, Europe, China and other markets, but it is yet to go on sale in Tesla’s home of North America.

In export markets – those outside China – BYD reported 97,245 vehicles as sold from October to December 2023, compared to just 38,732 from January to March 2023.

Drive will report on Australian data for Tesla and BYD after the car industry’s monthly ‘VFACTS’ sales figures are published tomorrow, 4 January 2024.

In the first 11 months of 2023, Tesla has reported 43,924 deliveries in Australia, compared to 10,975 for BYD – which did not have more than one model in its local line-up until October.

Alex Misoyannis has been writing about cars since 2017, when he started his own website, Redline. He contributed for Drive in 2018, before joining CarAdvice in 2019, becoming a regular contributing journalist within the news team in 2020.

Cars have played a central role throughout Alex’s life, from flicking through car magazines at a young age, to growing up around performance vehicles in a car-loving family.

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