Some BYD Buyers Wanted Subsides, Not Electric Vehicles

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Doug Young

Bottom line: A new report spotlighting suspicious sales by BYD shows that last year’s EV explosion in China was fueled by people seeking to pocket government subsidies.

A story from China’s new energy (electric) vehicle space is shining a spotlight on the challenges companies are facing after becoming too reliant on government support. It is a twisted tale involving electric car maker BYD (HKEx: 1211, OTC:BYDDF), and shows how its boom in sales last year may have been largely due to big government rebates for buyers.

BYD experienced a rocky road over the last few years as its dream of a future filled with new energy vehicles failed to take off. That seemed to change last year, as new energy vehicle sales suddenly exploded at the company backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. BYD and industry boosters said the sales explosion showed that Beijing’s years of support for the sector was finally bearing fruit.

But lately a much darker story has emerged, showing that much of the explosion was fueled by opportunists simply looking to pocket some of the big government rebates being offered to new energy car buyers. Now a new report from the respected Caixin is spotlighting one such case involving 3,000 electric cars that were purchased between 2013 and 2014 to become taxis in the city of Nanjing. (Chinese article)

I’ll admit I’ve read the story several times and am still not sure what exactly happened in this convoluted tale. But the bottom line seems to be that many of these cars never got put into use, and some 240 remain in BYD’s Shenzhen warehouses to this day even tough they were ready for delivery back in 2014.

The case seems to center on a BYD dealer who later killed himself and left behind a note that detailed a large amount of unpaid bills related to the Nanjing order. BYD last month said that it was owed 30 million yuan ($50 million) related to the case, which obviously isn’t huge and won’t have a huge impact on the company. But the case hints at the kinds of fake buying that were taking place more broadly to get the government subsidies. That kind of fraud has prompted Beijing and local governments to sharply reduce or even eliminate many of those incentives this year.

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 20 years, much of that as a journalist, writing about publicly listed Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where, in addition to his role as editor of Young’s China Business Blog, he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University, one of China’s top journalism programs.. He writes daily on his blog, Young´s China Business Blog, commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, The Party Line: How The Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.

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