Tesla’s Chinese sales last month were significantly lower than expected.
Although Tesla does not disclose monthly sales or regional revenue, the China Passenger Car Association estimated earlier this week that Tesla’s Chinese sales were down 27 per cent from March to just under 26,000 cars — far worse than China’s overall 10 per cent decline in electric vehicle sales.
But that isn’t the whole story: Later, the trade group clarified that its April figure includes sales of vehicles manufactured in China but exported to other markets. More than half of the Teslas reported as Chinese sales — 14,174 — were exported.
That could be a major issue for Tesla, which opened its second auto assembly plant in Shanghai in late 2019 specifically to serve the critical Chinese market. China is the world’s largest market for total car sales, and electric vehicles account for a much larger share of auto sales than in any other major market — approximately 4.5 per cent in 2020, more than twice the EV share of the US car market last year.
According to Zhu Yulong, an independent Chinese EV analyst, Tesla’s sales to Chinese buyers dropped by more than 60% between March and April. According to Yulong, the number of newly insured Tesla vehicles fell to just under 12,000 in April, down from around 34,500 in March. Those figures closely match the CPCA’s non-export and total numbers for April and March, respectively.
Yulong believes that the drop in sales is the result of negative publicity that Tesla has received in the Chinese market since the beginning of April.
Customers protested the company last month at China’s largest auto show in Shanghai, citing problems with their vehicles. In addition, the company is being investigated by five Chinese regulatory agencies regarding the quality of its Shanghai-made Model 3 vehicles. Chinese media also reported that the Chinese military had prohibited Tesla vehicles from entering its complexes, citing concerns that onboard cameras could be used for spying — a charge Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied.
“Tesla has suffered really strong negative coverage recently. It has damaged its sales,” Yulong wrote in a recent analysis.
Tesla detractors in the United States were quick to point out that the lower sales figures are a sign that the automaker’s bottom line is in trouble.
“Remember that the negative state-affiliated media campaign inside China around Tesla’s car quality didn’t begin until late April,” Gordon Johnson of GLJ Research, one of Tesla’s harshest critics, noted. “As a result, the impact (whatever it is) is unlikely to be seen until the May/June 2021 sales figures are released.”
Tesla (TSLA) shares have been falling this week due to concerns about its Chinese sales and a Reuters report earlier this week that Tesla has decided not to buy land next to its Shanghai plant for future expansion.
Shares fell 2% on Tuesday after preliminary CPCA data suggested a 27% drop in Chinese sales, fell another 4% on Wednesday and closed down 3% on Thursday.
A 743 per cent increase in share price in 2020 made Tesla one of the most valuable US companies of any kind, and by far the world’s most valuable automaker, worth more than the six largest automakers combined.
However, after extending that run in the early weeks of 2021, shares peaked in late January after the company reported slightly disappointing fourth-quarter earnings. Tesla shares have lost a third of their value since their all-time high in late January, sending the stock into the bear market territory.