An electric vehicle charging station is seen at Nio’s headquarters on Jan. 31, 2021 in Hefei, Anhui Province of China.

Ruan Xuefeng | Visual China Group | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese consumers thinking about whether to buy Tesla’s electric cars or local alternatives have two things at the top of their minds: price and driving range.

That’s according to anecdotes gathered by CNBC — conversations from around the country that do not represent qualitative research. But the comments shed light on what some consumers care about in China, the world’s largest auto market.

U.S.-listed Chinese car start-ups Nio, Xpeng and Li Auto saw deliveries surge last year despite a slump in the overall auto market and the coronavirus pandemic. Shares of the companies soared in 2020, but pulled back slightly this year.

To be clear, Tesla is still the market leader for high-end electric vehicles in China. During a quick check at the start of the evening commute one day, CNBC found 11 Tesla cars passing by, along with two Nio SUVs, one from WM Motor and Xpeng’s latest P7 sedan.

Here’s what some Chinese consumers say factored into their decision to buy a local electric car.

Price competitiveness

First, price was a major consideration.

Chen Yingjie, 42, said he bought Li Auto’s Li One SUV in April 2020 for about 300,000 yuan ($46,000) after realizing it would cost him about twice as much to buy a similar car from Nio with all the specifications he wanted.

Nio’s starting price is low, but there are many features that come at an additional cost, Chen said. The Shanghai resident had previously bought Xpeng’s G3 in 2019, and later a BYD electric car for his father in June 2020.

Part of Nio’s strategy is selling many car features via a subscription model. For example, the company launched a “battery as a service” plan last year that charges customers a monthly fee for battery power — similar to a regular fuel charge for a traditional gas-powered car.

For Wang Jingyan, 29, he said Nio’s emphasis on customer care services was something he thought was worth paying extra for because it saved him time from going to a repair shop.

Price was also a factor for him. Wang said he bought his Nio ES6 for about 450,000 yuan in late 2019 — his first electric car — after a recommendation from a manager at work and comparing it with a more expensive Lexus RX.

He said he didn’t have a chance to try out Tesla’s Model 3 beforehand, but he didn’t have that good of an impression based on his friends’ experience and online stories about poor customer service at stores.

Driving range concerns

Zhang said his wife primarily uses the car to send and pick up their children from school, a daily distance of about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). The children also prefer his wife’s car to his non-electric car because they can watch cartoons on the vehicle’s built-in interior screen, Zhang said.

But he’s found repairs more of a hassle than for a non-electric car, and said he wouldn’t consider buying another such vehicle in China’s northeastern region due to the lack of public charging infrastructure there.

Government support

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