Southeast Asia's three most popular electric vehicles in 2023 Source: Shutterstock.

Southeast Asia’s three most popular electric vehicles in 2023Source: Shutterstock.

Southeast Asia’s most popular electric vehicles in 2023

  • Sales of electric vehicles in 2023 will grow.
  • Appetite for green vehicles in Southeast Asia relies mainly on pricing.

Electric vehicles have emerged as a significant trend among automotive manufacturers in recent years, especially in largely untapped markets like Southeast Asia. Globally, EV sales have been on an upward trajectory, so much so that by the first three months of 2023, one in every seven cars sold was an EV, Counterpoint Research data shows.

Generally, the market growth of electric vehicles in Southeast Asia has been relatively slow compared to other regions such as Europe, North America, and China. Despite the slower adoption, major automotive players are now recognizing Southeast Asia’s potential, with many promoting adoption and increase production of EVs in the region.

Moreover, Southeast Asian countries have set lofty EV targets and introduced many incentives to promote consumer adoption and attract EV manufacturers to set up bases. Although, as of 2022, sales are tiny compared to global EV sales, constituting just 0.5% of the worldwide total, passenger EV demand is increasing gradually across the region, according to available data.

In terms of countries, Thailand is the most advanced in the number of electric vehicles sold as of 2023, accounting for more than half of the region’s sales, followed by Indonesia and Vietnam. For Thailand, the rise is explicitly attributed to its government pushing EV sales through demand-side and corporate income tax incentives for EV manufacturers.

A recent report by Counterpoint Research indicated that because Tesla slashed prices for its models globally in January 2023, other automotive brands announced similar cuts for their car models starting in February this year, which led to an improvement in the sales of electric vehicles. 

“During February and March, almost 40 automakers, including BYD, NIO, Xpeng, Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes–Benz, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota, reduced their vehicle prices by a couple of hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, which eventually stoked a competitive price war in China,” research analyst Abhik Mukherjee said in regards to the market dynamics.

Global EV sales up 32% YoY in Q1 2023 driven by price war. #USA surpassed #Germany to become the world’s second-largest EV market in Q1 2023 while #China remained the leader.Source: Counterpoint's Twitter

Global EV sales up 32% YoY in Q1 2023 driven by price war. #USA surpassed #Germany to become the world’s second-largest EV market in Q1 2023 while #China remained the leader.
Source: Counterpoint’s Twitter

While Tesla’s Model Y remained the best-selling model globally, followed by Tesla’s Model 3, the type of electric vehicle topping the chart in Southeast Asia as of 2023 differs. Below is the list of EV brands that have made significant strides in the region as of June 2023.

China’s BYD – dominating SEA with its electric vehicles in 2023

While many Chinese EV companies have been accelerating their overseas expansion, BYD is among the more aggressive ones. The Chinese automotive conglomerate, according to a May 2023 Bloomberg report, announced plans to produce electric vehicles in Vietnam as it prepares to expand operations further and establish a local supply chain to cater to the Southeast Asian market.

Separately, data released by the Land Transport Authority of Singapore shows BYD surpassed Tesla to be the best-selling EV brand in Singapore during the first five months of 2023, registering 303 electric vehicles. For context, the number of electric vehicles registered in the city-state between January to May 2023 was 1,462.

Complete sales of electric vehicles in Singapore as of May 2023.

Complete sales of electric vehicles in Singapore as of May 2023.

BYD has been the only brand to cut the stranglehold of Japanese automakers in the Southeast Asian region, mainly due to its cheap EV models. The Shenzhen-based carmaker dubbed the largest EV manufacturer in the world, first entered the region through its retail foray into the Thailand market in 2022.

By this year, BYD had announced plans to start construction of its first plant for electric vehicles in the region, in Thailand. “Four million cars are sold in Southeast Asia on average each year, and BYD’s factory will have an annual capacity of 150,000 EVs when it is completed next year (2024),” a South China Morning Post report indicated.

In short, it’s only the beginning of BYD’s dominance in the Southeast Asian region. Still, BYD has dethroned Tesla globally as the world’s largest EV maker, with 1.86 million deliveries in 2022, more than tripling its sales in 2021. For context, Tesla delivered about 1.31 million EVs last year. 

China’s Wuling with the best-selling EV model across the region in 2022

Chinese automobile manufacturer SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW), a joint venture between SAIC Motor, General Motors, and Liuzhou Wuling Motors, entered the Southeast Asian market in Indonesia first. Indonesia is Wuling’s first international expansion, with its Air model selling at a mere US$16,000 — less than half the price of alternatives.

By the end of 2022, six months after the launch of the Air model, Wuling already dominated the EV market share in Indonesia by 68.7%, according to the Association of Indonesia Automotive Industries (Gaikindo). Since entering Indonesia last August, it’s sold some 8,000 vehicles as of January 2023. 

Wuling Air EV at Bandung, Indonesia. Source: Shutterstock

Wuling Air EV at Bandung, Indonesia. Source: Shutterstock

“The number may be small compared to the manufacturers’ sales figures in their home turfs of the US and China, but it’s equivalent to 78% of the EV market in the Southeast Asian country,” a blog posting by Wuling reads.

Indeed, based on Counterpoint Research’s data, Wuling’s Air EV was the best-selling model across the region in 2022 – by simply being one of the most affordable EV options. After Indonesia, Wuling Air made its foray into Thailand earlier this month and immediately became the cheapest EV in the country, dethroning the Neta V.

“This marks the region’s second market for Wuling Air, following its successful launch in Indonesia. Interestingly, the Wuling Air is also manufactured in Indonesia, and the initial batch of 400 units in Thailand has been fully imported from there (CBU),” a Carlist article reads.

Vinfast – 2023, the year of its electric vehicles in SEA?

VinFast, a member of Vingroup – the largest private corporation in Vietnam, is almost everywhere but hardly in Southeast Asia. The EV maker chose to kick start its journey out of Vietnam with sales in North America and Europe first. Yet by 2022, despite only being in Vietnam, in terms of automotive groups, Vingroup will lead the Southeast Asian EV sales, closely followed by Wuling, Counterpoint’s data shows.

But during the Future Mobility Asia 2023, VinFast announced it would be ready to throttle into the Asian market fully. Aside from that region, the Vietnamese car market is also looking at China and South Korea. “Expanding to the Southeast Asia region is part of VinFast’s global development strategy. We have set a target to provide ASEAN countries with smart and safe mobility solutions,” said Le Thi Thu Thuy, Vice Chairman of Vingroup and VinFast.

To recall, it was only in 2021 that VinFast launched its first EV for the Vietnamese market, the e34 compact crossover. Global expansion began in 2022 when VinFast opened showrooms in the US, Canada, and Europe and became the world’s first global Vietnamese EV company.