China vehicle sales plunge 48% but EVs strong as BYD gains

SHANGHAI, May 11 (Reuters) - China's overall vehicle sales for April plunged almost 48% from a year earlier as COVID-19 lockdowns hit factories and showrooms, but sales of electric vehicles surged and Chinese brands took share from global rivals.

The monthly sales volume was the lowest for the month in a decade, underscoring the economic toll of the tough restrictions China put in place in April in Shanghai and other cities to control the spread of COVID.

The tally released on Wednesday by the China Association of Automobile Manufactuers (CAAM) includes sales to dealers of passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Retail sales of passenger cars alone dropped almost 36% in April, data released Tuesday by a separate trade group showed.

Overall, vehicle sales in the first four months of 2022 were down 12% from the same period a year earlier in the world's biggest car market, the CAAM said.

The bright spot remained sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, a fast-growing segment China has supported as "new energy nehicles", and where made-in-China brands now dominate. Sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids were up 45% in April and more than doubled over the first four months of the year from 2021 levels.

Among Chinese brands, BYD (002594.SZ) was the biggest winner, posting a 164% jump in sales in the first four months of the year, including April when its U.S. rival Tesla (TSLA.O) was hobbled by supply constraints.

BYD, which also makes EV batteries, accounted for 32% of all batteries installed in electric vehicles in April, trailing CATL (300750.SZ), which accounted for 38%, data from the China Automotive and Battery Innovation Alliance showed.

Shares in BYD closed up 8.3%. Shares in CATL were up 8%.

Tesla's sales plunged 98% in April with exports down to zero, as Shanghai's lockdown disrupted logistics near its plant, data released Tuesday showed. read more

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Tuesday he expected China's COVID restrictions to be less disruptive and that China sales would account for 25% to 30% of its overall sales in the long term.

"I had conversations with the Chinese government in recent days and it's clear that the lockdowns are being lifted rapidly," he said. read more

The CAAM and some private analysts said they also expected production and demand to begin to catch up in coming weeks for the losses in April, when dozens of cities were in full or partial lockdown.

Daiwa Capital Markets said in a note on Tuesday it expected major automakers would "catch up in the coming months to make up for the sales loss in April" with normal production levels in Shanghai this month.

Reporting by Zhang Yan, and Brenda Goh; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.