Zhang Youping, a Chinese retiree, purchased an all-electric small SUV from BYD — China’s largest electric vehicle maker — at an auto show for around $20,000 last month. Her family has bought three gas-powered cars in the last decade, but she recently grew concerned about gas prices and decided to go electric "to save money.” A few months earlier, her son had also bought an EV. It was a $10,000 hatchback from Leapmotor, another Chinese manufacturer.

This year, one-quarter of all new cars bought in China will be all-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. There are, by some estimates, more than 300 Chinese companies making EVs, ranging from discount offerings below $5,000 to high-end models that rival Tesla and German automakers. And there are roughly 4 million charging units in the country — double the number from a year ago — with more coming.

While other EV markets are still heavily dependent on subsidies and financial incentives, China has entered a new phase: Consumers are weighing the merits of electric vehicles against gas-powered cars based on features and price without much consideration of state support.