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China's electric carmakers battle for survival after subsidies scaled back

Beijing

WHEN Elon Musk's Tesla Inc delivered positive earnings few saw coming last quarter, China's top electric carmakers were weathering a historical contraction in demand.

Warren Buffett-backed BYD Co, the country's biggest maker of new energy vehicles (NEV) - all-electric, fuel-cell and plugin hybrid cars - just reported an 89 per cent slump in third-quarter earnings and warned that profit could fall as much as 43 per cent this year. BAIC BluePark New Energy Technology Co, China's biggest maker of all-electric vehicles, also forecast a 2019 loss in a grim earnings update.

In a battle for survival, hundreds of Chinese EV makers are trying to convince buyers that it's worth paying higher prices than opting for cheaper gas guzzlers. It's not working at the moment. Electric-car sales fell for three straight months through September, as the government - after spending billions of yuan to nurture the industry - scaled back subsidies.

BYD said earlier this month that its September sales fell 15 per cent. While the phasing out of subsidies delivers a blow to BYD's fourth-quarter earnings, some pressure could be eased thanks to its first-mover advantage in battery-only and hybrid vehicles, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Steve Man.

BYD's shares slid as much as 8.6 per cent in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning, hitting their lowest since February 2016. Daiwa Securities downgraded its rating to hold from buy, saying BYD's weak outlook for the current quarter is concerning as it is peak season for sales.

Meanwhile, cash-strapped NIO Inc, which is backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd, faces a cash crunch and saw its chief financial officer resign earlier this week.

BAIC BluePark's shares fell as much as 9 per cent in Shanghai after the company said it delivered 98,382 units in the first nine months, less than half its annual goal of 220,000. For the NEV industry as a whole, sales rose 21 per cent in January-September, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, yet growth slowed significantly from the 84 per cent surge a year earlier.

China considers EVs as strategically important and is mulling a target for 60 per cent of all vehicles sold in the country to run on electric motors by 2035, people familiar with the matter have said. Still, with about 500 aspiring EV makers nationwide, the authorities want to raise the bar for entry.

The Ministry of Industry and Information and Technology issued a draft rule last month that included a requirement for carmakers to have at least 6 billion yuan (S$1.2 billion) in capital. China's EV makers are also set to face stiffer competition from global carmakers such as BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Tesla, which is setting up a manufacturing facility near Shanghai. BLOOMBERG

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