China has been Tesla's second largest market, as the prominence of EVs across the Asian country has been the sole bright spot in an auto industry that stagnated and recessed heading into the start of 2019. But according to a report by Daily Kanban citing research done by the Manhattan-based JL Warren Capital, exports and sales to China have "fallen off a cliff" during the final quarter of 2018.
JL Warren Capital's lead analyst, Junheng Li, shared the new information in a recent note to her paying customers. According to the report, Tesla exports to and registrations in China nearly halved during the final quarter of 2018.
In October 2018, Tesla registrations were down 86% to just 211 for all of China, as we noted back in November. The number later recovered to -48% for the quarter. Exports to the country were "down accordingly".
After the 211 number was reported in October of last year, Tesla disputed it to CNBC.
"This is wildly inaccurate. While we do not disclose regional or monthly sales numbers, these figures are off by a significant margin," a Tesla spokesperson said back in October.
But Li again confirmed the 211 number in her report, using customs data and official data from China's Passenger Car Association.
Until the company's Shanghai factory is finished, Li says Tesla will have to continue to import Model 3s to the country to "lackluster demand". Li's note reads:
“Due to the lack of actual cars (even in the stores) in China, thus no test drives, no user reviews, soft economic environment, and Chinese preference for big cars, the ongoing orders for 3 is not optimistic. We estimate that Model 3 orders nationwide are in hundreds as of today.”
This ugly news for Tesla comes in the midst of a full scale slowdown in the Chinese car market. In January, we reported that the sharp plunge in auto sales in China has continued: retail sales of passenger vehicles - which included sedans, MPVs, mini-vans and SUVs - in China fell a whopping 19% in 2018 to 2.26 million units.