Many media outlets from around the world are reporting that Chinese carmaker BYD Auto has overtaken Tesla as the world's biggest electric vehicle maker by sales in the first half of this year.

Is that accurate? Well, it depends on what the definition of an electric vehicle is. BYD, which is part-owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has sold 641,350 new energy vehicles in the first six months of 2022, a massive 314 percent jump from the same period the year before. 

There's a (big) catch, though: not all these vehicles were fully electric. Of the total, 323,519 units or just over 50 percent were battery electric vehicles; the rest were plug-in hybrids. Under China's sales rules, PHEVs and BEVs are counted together as new energy vehicles (NEVs).

During the same period, Tesla has sold 564,743 vehicles, all of which were obviously fully electric. This means that the US electric vehicle maker is still the world's top battery electric vehicle manufacturer by sales, despite a tough second quarter caused by supply chain and sales disruptions in China.

While Tesla remains the No. 1 global EV maker, it clearly cannot afford to ignore BYD's rise. The company is also an EV battery powerhouse, having recently overtaken South Korea's LG as the world's second-biggest producer of electric vehicle batteries.

Gallery: BYD Seal

According to Seoul-based SNE Research cited by Financial Times, BYD has outpaced LG Energy in terms of monthly market share since April. China's Contemporary Amperex Technology, known as CATL, remains the world leader in this field.

BYD Auto currently sells an array of battery electric vehicles in China, the market accounting for an overwhelming majority of its sales. The most successful EVs made by BYD include the Han EV flagship sedan, Dolphin hatchback, Qin Plus EV sedan, Yuan Plus SUV, Song EV SUV, and the list goes on.

The company recently unveiled the BYD Seal electric sedan, a Tesla Model 3 competitor with huge sales potential, especially if the company plans to start exporting its battery electric passenger vehicles internationally as rumored.

Financial Times cites Tu Le, managing director of advisory group Sino Auto Insights, as saying that BYD is "firing on all cylinders" (not the most inspired phrasing when referring to EVs, we know) to churn out products that cover many critical EV market segments.

According to him, BYD's global expansion is not a question of if but when, adding that the Chinese maker is going to make "some really aggressive moves to go international." He expects BYD to soon challenge foreign automakers on their home turf, especially in the United States. At that point, Tesla should indeed be worried.

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