In the first six months of 2017, Chinese car sales are up just 3% to 10,93 million. If the market maintains this growth rate, it will become the lowest increase in more than 13 years and possibly in more than 25 years. And there’s reason to believe it will come to that scenario, if you look at the sales curve in the second half of 2016, with increasing sales in the last quarter due to a pending increase in sales tax on cars with engines smaller than 1,6 liters, from 5% to 7,5%. Then again, that same tax will rise again in 2018 to 10%, so sales may show a similar curve in Q4 of 2017 as consumers pull forward their buying decisions to benefit from the lower tax. Back to the first half of 2017, in which crossovers and SUVs gained 14,9% to 4,41 million sales, while sedan sales were down 2,5% to 5,42 million and MPV sales slumped 9,4% to 1,09 million. Of these 10,9 million total passenger car sales, 42,3% came from domestic brands and 57,7% from import brands, compared to a ratio of 41,3% vs. 58,7% in all of 2016, as sales of foreign brand vehicles have slightly dipped while sales of local brands have continued to rise, especially thanks to the introduction of a range of afFordable crossovers by almost every single brand.
But that doesn’t paint the complete picture, as European brand sales have remained virtually stable at +0,85% and US brand sales have improved only slightly better than the overall market at +3,86%. The big shift has taken place between Japanese brands and South-Korean brands, as the former are finally starting to recover from their troubles during a diplomatic spat between China and Japan in 2012 over a few islands in the East China Sea, even though only Honda and Mitsubishi have returned to the market share they held in 2011. Still, Japanese brands have grown at a pace of +16,36%, double the gains of the domestic brands, while Korean brands were the only nation to lose volume at a terrifying -46,7%. The reason for that demise has been explained in our monthly reports for the last four months, but there’s another underlying reason which has been going on for a longer period. The South-Korean brands never achieved the kind of mainstream status in China as they did in Europe or North America. They remained a low-cost, low quality option for customers who wanted an import-brand vehicle without having to pay the premium for an actual established brand from Europe, the US or Japan. When the domestic brands started to improve their quality and subsequently their brand image, and also started launching a huge number of afFordable crossovers to satisfy the demand for this type of vehicle, the Koreans were left behind as customers proved less brand loyal than expected. Especially Hyundai has been left behind in this race as its partner Beijing Automotive keeps on expanding the brand’s sedan range to no less than 9 models of different generations sold alongside each other with a 10th nameplate coming up, compared to just 4 crossovers. When recovering from the anti South-Korean sentiment, both brands need to be quick to launch afFordable crossovers to the Chinese market or risk facing reduced market shares for years to come.