An ambitious plan to sell cheap Chinese electric cars in Australia has stalled before the first delivery, despite months of bold claims and big sales projections.
In April 2021, Sydney-based company Nexport – the local distributor for Xi’an-based manufacturer BYD (an abbreviation of ‘Build Your Dreams’) – announced order books for its EA1 ‘Dolphin’ electric hatchback would open “by July 1,” with prices set to start from “well under $35,000.”
“[We will] completely change the automotive landscape in Australia, and we expect to be a top-five manufacturer within 24 months,” Luke Todd, Nexport’s CEO, told Drive at the time.
Six months later, the vehicle is still not on sale locally, final pricing is yet to be locked in, and Mr Todd concedes right-hand drive production of current-generation cars – which is supposed to take place on a specialised “Australia-only” assembly line – has not begun for our market.
The company says manufacturing and shipping complications brought on by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic are responsible for the delays, but insists a range of six electric cars are still on the way.
“We’ve invested tens-of-millions of dollars into the project so far … and we have the full factory backing of BYD,” Mr Todd told Drive this week.
“We’ve been slow because of COVID and a few other things, but BYD is certainly going to make its presence felt [in Australia] in the coming period of time”
A small SUV – which is also fully electric, and known in China as the Yuan Plus – is now scheduled to replace the EA1 as the brand’s debut vehicle in Australia.
Pricing for that model is yet to be confirmed, and it is unclear if it will undercut the $44,990 drive-away MG ZS EV – currently Australia’s most affordable electric car.
Order books for the Tuan Plus will now open by “October or very early November this year,” with the first customer deliveries promised in April, 2022. A revised timeline for the cheaper EA1 has not been announced.
As previously reported by Drive, a small number of current-generation BYD E6 people movers and T3 commercial vans have reportedly been pre-sold to Australian customers (believed to comprise 15 examples of the E6, and 50 examples of the T3), however none have yet been delivered.
Right-hand-drive examples of the van have been spotted testing locally, and at least six white and blue people movers recently arrived at Port Kembla, near Wollongong (below).
Approximately 65 previous-generation dark green BYD E6 taxis were also imported to Australia by Nexport earlier this year, however just five are currently registered for the road and in operation.
The remaining 60 cars are in storage in a parking lot at Sydney Airport (shown below), and the company now says it may sell them to private buyers due to lack of demand among taxi operators.
Despite the recent closure of Australian car factories owned by Toyota, Ford, and General Motors (Holden) – because it was uneconomical to assemble vehicles domestically – Mr Todd previously claimed local passenger-car production could return via Nexport’s new $700 million Southern Highlands facility.
However, he now says such a plan would not be viable: “The likelihood of that ever happening is very low, it just doesn’t make commercial sense.”
Despite the setbacks, Nexport remains adamant it is on track to break into the Australian automotive market.
“This is a major operation – we’re bringing the world’s second biggest [electric vehicle] company to Australia. We’re not just taking a small handful, like we’ve seen with our competitors,” Mr Todd told Drive.
“We’re planning on delivering thousands of vehicles in the first half of next year, so as you can imagine, the amount of work going on behind the scenes is unprecedented.
“If there’s a little bit of criticism about the odd delay here or there, that will quickly be dispelled once people truly see the magnitude of what we’re actually doing.”
BYD is not the only company to face delays during 2021 – Toyota, Volkswagen, Tesla, Nissan, Ram and many other top-selling brands are currently experiencing severe production slowdowns due to ongoing semiconductor shortages.
For now, the cheapest electric cars on sale in Australia are the MG ZS EV starting from $44,990 drive-away, the Hyundai Ioniq from $49,970 before on-road costs, and the Nissan Leaf from $49,990 before on-road costs.
Stay tuned to Drive for further updates.