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Chinese vehicle manufacturer overtakes Tesla as leading EV maker

Chinese vehicle manufacturer overtakes Tesla as leading EV maker

Tesla might be the biggest name in electric vehicles - but it's recently been knocked off the top spot.

When you think of electric vehicles (EVs) it's fair to say that the first brand that comes to mind is almost certainly Tesla.

Elon Musk's company has been a huge player in the market for years now, and while traditional car-makers are starting to catch up in terms of features and reviews, Tesla is still far out in front where brand recognition is concerned.

Interestingly, though, it's been dethroned from the top spot in terms of actual car sales, and by a brand you might never have heard of.

BAY ISMOYO / Contributor / Getty

Earlier in January, it was announced that Chinese carmaker BYD sold 526,409 electric vehicles in the last three months, compared to Tesla's 484,507.

The company has turned its name into a slogan - 'Build Your Dreams' - but company founder Wang Chuanfu has said that BYD, or 'Biyadi' in Chinese, was chosen mainly because it was a simple and unusual name, two characteristics that make it easier to register a new company in China.

Obviously, three months doesn't mean this is a permanent state of affairs, but given Tesla is now dealing with making the Cybertruck as well as its other vehicles, it's very possible that it won't be able to speed up anytime soon.

That could make BYD the biggest purely electric car maker, although because of Chinese politics and the complex systems of global trade, that doesn't mean you should necessarily expect to see dozens of BYD cars in towns near you particularly soon.

NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty

After all, BYD's massive growth is partly as a result of the Chinese government going all in on electric vehicles and throwing policies out to help grow the market domestically - BYD still has a comparatively small footprint in the US.

“Most of BYD’s EVs were sold in China despite its fast-growing overseas sales, whereas Tesla is already a global player,” said Jing Yang, the director of China corporate research at Fitch Ratings.

But that could soon be changing, with BYD looking to expand into new markets. Its exports more than quadrupled to 242,765 vehicles in 2023, accounting for 8% of its sales, and BYD announced in December that it would build its first European electric vehicle factory in Hungary.

Yang still said this could be tricky, as Chinese EV makers are still in the early stages of going abroad and may run up against regulatory or trade barriers - particularly in places which already have major automakers, like the US and Europe.

Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis / Contributor / Getty

Other barriers could include the EU's investigation into subsidies to electric vehicle makers in China, and the US has passed legislation blocking people from getting a full $7,500 tax credit for an EV if its battery components come from China and a few other countries.

While BYD is predominantly focused on low-cost vehicles - compared to Tesla's more luxurious cars - we can't imagine Elon Musk is happy with second place.

While Tesla sold the overall number of electric cars in 2023, BYD came for its crown in the final few months - so we'll keep a keen eye to see what happens next.

Featured Image Credit: Future Publishing / Contributor/ Robert Alexander / Contributor /Getty