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Tesla's nightmare? Why BYD is the brand to claim the electric car crown in Australia (hint: they'll have a Toyota HiLux rival)

BYD sales are on the rise in Australia and its range is expanding - unlike Tesla's.

Tesla is the undisputed king of electric cars in Australia.

More than half of all EVs sold here carry the ‘T’ badge, with the American brand notching nearly 40,000 sales in the first 10 months of 2023 (39,985 to be precise). No other brand is even close, with the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi selling in the hundreds, not tens of thousands.

Except a new challenger may be emerging with the pieces in place to potentially threaten and possibly even take Tesla’s crown - BYD.

Across the same 10-month period, the Chinese upstart has only managed 9718 sales, so what makes us think they can dethrone Tesla? Because they already are challenging, if not overall but at least in head-to-head sales fights.

For example, in the October sales data released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries the BYD Atto 3 outsold the Tesla Model Y 912 to 810 units. Sure, that’s a single month, with supply chain variances meaning there’s no way to know what true demand for the two models are, but more is more. By comparison, Mercedes’ two Model Y rivals, the EQB and EQC could only manage a combined 123 sales in October. 

The way things currently stand, the established luxury brands such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi have no chance of competing with Tesla in the sales race. But there are several factors in BYD’s favour.

For starters, BYD is a price-led brand, with more affordable EV offerings than Tesla. The Atto 3 starts at $48,011 before on-road costs, which makes it more than $17,000 cheaper than the most affordable Model Y.

And that’s only the start for BYD in terms of affordability. The new Dolphin small hatch, which at $38,890 is the cheapest EV on sale in the country, recently began customer deliveries. Only 100 examples were registered in October but with the first shipment only arriving late in the month, the clear picture of its popularity won’t be revealed until the November sales data is released.

Then there’s BYD’s answer to Tesla’s Model 3, the mid-size Seal sedan. BYD has managed to undercut Tesla by more than $12,000, with the Seal beginning at just $49,888. 

While it’s still early days for the arrival of these new BYD models, both stand a chance of eating into Tesla’s sales lead. And then will come BYD Australia’s 2024 arrivals, which will really shake things up.

Namely, the highly anticipated BYD ute, which will forgo an all-electric powertrain initially for a plug-in hybrid-style system. Even so, the introduction of a fuel-efficient and possibly sharply priced ute will have major sales potential for the Chinese brand.

For context, both the GWM Ute and LDV T60 are solid sales performers, outselling the likes of the Nissan Navara and Volkswagen Amarok so far in 2023. If the BYD ute can perform similarly, it has the potential to add up to 10,000 annual sales to the company’s tally. 

Tesla, meanwhile, is likely to be locked into its two-model line-up for the foreseeable future. The Cybertruck is yet to go on sale in the USA, four years after it was first revealed, so it’s almost-certainly several years off for would-be Australian buyers - if at all (given the questions surrounding its ability to pass local design laws). 

Reports that Tesla is working on a new entry-level Model 2 offering may be promising for the brand, but given Tesla’s historical timeframes, it will likely be the end of the decade before it arrives here.

That will leave the door wide-open for BYD to chip away at its sales lead with its expanding line-up. Alongside the ute, a new seven-seat, hybrid SUV is also due next year before two more new models arrive in 2025.

While it won’t, strictly speaking, be an all-electric line-up, there is clear potential for the BYD Atto 3, Dolphin, Seal, ute and large SUV to dramatically expand its sales in Australia and eventually challenge Tesla for its EV crown. Stay tuned…