After two months of slumping sales in April and May, the Chinese car market recovers with two months of increases in June and July. July sales are up 5,4% on 2016 and a whopping 30,8% on July 2015, which was especially depressed when the Chinese stock market crashed, before the Beijing government stepped in with their tax reduction on vehicles with small engines. A total of 1,65 million new passenger cars were sold last month, naturally a new record for July sales in China. The year-to-date total now stands at 12,59 million sales, an increase of 3,4% on the first seven months of 2016. The Seasonally Adjusted Annualized selling Rate stands at 24 million in July, the highest figure since January. SUVs and crossovers are once again the main (and only) winners in April with sales up 18% to 689.500 units, while sedans decline for the fourth consecutive month at -0,3% to 824.900 sales and MPV sales continue to plunge at -11% to 136.500. New Energy vehicle sales improved 55% to 57.000 units, as EV sales gained 70% to 45.000 units and PHEVs rebounded for the second straight month at +16% to 12.000 sales. Year-to-date, EV and PHEV sales in China are up 22% to 251.000 sales, of which 204.000 EVs (up 34%) and 47.000 PHEVs (down 13%). Sales of domestic automakers were up 9,5% and their share is up from 38% to 39,5%, although that is the lowest share since last January. Japanese brand cars are up 16,3%, sales of US brand cars are up 3,9% and of European brand cars are up 0,9%, while sales of South-Korean brand cars are down 46,7%.
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.
After two months of small declines, the Chinese car market returns to a modest growth with sales up 3,2% to just under 1,79 million units. However, there have been reports that the June sales figures are artificially boosted by heavy discounts as 2017 sales threatened to lag behind 2016. Again, crossovers and SUVs are the only type of vehicle to improve year-over-year, with a 16% increase to 741.400 sales. Meanwhile, sedan sales were down 4,3% to 883.000 and MPV sales dropped 3,7% to 163.700 units. Within those sales figures, electric cars and PHEVs also showed a nice improvement of 33% in June to 59.000 units, of which 48.000 EVs and 11.000 PHEVs. For the first six months, sales of New Energy Vehicles totaled 195.000 (160.000 EV and 35.000 PHEV), an improvement of 14% due to a slow first quarter when the government reduced tax incentives on this type of vehicle. New Energy Vehicle sales represented less than 1,5 percent of China’s total new-vehicle volume in the first six months, but the Beijing government holds on to its target of 6,7% in 2020 and as much as 20% by 2025, helped by a carbon credit scheme that will be imposed in 2018.
The Seasonally Adjusted Annualized selling Rate in June stood at 23,2 million, up from the last two months and the third-highest figure of the year so far. The share of domestic automakers was similar to that of May at 40% as all the growth in the market came from domestic brands while sales of import brand cars were stable. Year-to-date, the share of domestic brands now stands at 42,25%. First half car sales in China now total just over 10,9 million units, an increase of 3% on the first half of 2016. However, average transaction prices dropped 4% over the first half of 2017.
After almost 10 years of UK-only sales, SAIC MG is ready to start exports of its cars from China to other countries in Europe as well. Recently, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) has successfully launched a few crossovers in the domestic market (Roewe RX5, MG ZS), which puts its two passenger car brands among the fastest growing brands in China at the moment. This would be a great moment to expand its footprint to new markets as it can launch there with fresh product, and more importantly: the right product. MG is the designated export brand for passenger cars from SAIC, whereas Roewe is and will remain a China-only brand and Maxus is the LCV brand of the company. MG is already available in a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific, South America and Africa regions, and since 2009 in the UK where it reached a peak of just under 4.200 sales last year. With its expansion into continental Europe, the brand is looking to become the first Chinese brand to successfully enter a mature market, but a number of other players have set similar goals, among others Geely with its newly launched Lynk & Co brand and the resurrected Borgward brand, which both also have concrete plans to enter the European car market. [Read more…]
Ford has announced that the next generation Focus sedan will be imported from China, now that other automakers have proven there’s little public backslash nor customer hesitation over quality from cars produced in China. Buick already imports the Enclave from China, Cadillac will follow with the CT6 PHEV and Volvo sells the Chinese made S60L in the US and S90 in Europe. So not a lot of breaking news there, except that the Focus will be the highest volume model so far that will be shipped from China to the US. The big story about this announcement is Ford’s decision to pick China instead of Mexico as the new production base for the Focus. Ford originally planned to move Focus production to a new $1.6 billion plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Those plans were canceled in January, less than a year after announcing them, under public pressure from then-president-elect Donald Trump. Trump singled out Ford for its decision to move production from Michigan to Mexico, which he claimed would cost US jobs. Then-Ford-CEO Mark Fields called Bullshit on Trump as the Focus would make room for production of the Bronco SUV and Ranger midsize pickup at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in 2018, and no US jobs would be lost as a result of this move, but it was too little too late against the media-savvy populist who never let truth get in the way of headline-grabbing claims.
Eager not to let Trump take any credit for the decision not to invest in extra capacity in Mexico, Ford cited cost savings of $500 million as the reason to change its mind and build the next gen Focus at its existing plant in Hermosillo, Mexico instead of investing in the new plant in San Luis Potosi. Now there’s a new CEO at the helm at Ford and plans have changed again: Mexican production is off the table altogether. Again, cost savings of another $500 million are quoted as the reason for the shift of production across the Pacific. These plans were already in the making under Mark Fields, but it was the new boss Jim Hackett who eventually pulled the trigger. [Read more…]
Car sales in China seem to have stalled after years of double digit growth. The main culprit for the slowdown has been mentioned on these pages before: the government has artificially boosted demand for cars with small engines since the 3rd quarter of 2015 when the market threatened to sink into the red due to a collapsing stock market and reduced customer confidence. That tax break has worked perfectly in pulling forward car purchases in Q4 of 2015 and in 2016 but it was cut in half by the beginning of 2017 and has since affected the Chinese car market in a negative way. Sales of vehicles with engines of 1,6 liters or less fell 9% to 1.15 million last month. In Q1, total market sales were still up by 5,7% but two months of declines have brought the year-to-date tally to 9,25 million, up just 2,7% on the first 5 months of 2016. A 2,2% loss in April was a first warning sign and now in May sales are down by another 2,1% to 1,71 million units. The Seasonally Adjusted Annualized selling Rate rebounded to 22,2 million, still the second lowest figure in the past 12 months. SUVs and crossovers continued to fuel the market with sales up 13% to 715.000 units in May, but this could not offset declines in deliveries of sedans (-9,3% to 839.000 sales) and MPVs (-17% to 150.000). The share of domestic automakers was the lowest since last August at 40,3% and it has fallen hard since its peak of 47,1% in February. However, compared to May 2016, the domestic brands have increased their sales 3% while the foreign brands saw their volume shrink by 5,5%. Year-to-date, the domestic share is now 43,4%.
The Chinese car market is one of the most diverse in the world, with over 400 locally produced passenger car models from more than 70 domestic and foreign brands. If we include imported vehicles, minivans, pickups and commercial vehicles, there are more than 1.000 different models available. In the March 2017 sales ranking, we welcome 11 new models: 6 crossovers, a sedan, a hatchback and an EV version of an existing crossover. In the April 2017 sales ranking, we welcome 9 new models: 5 crossovers, 1 MPV and 3 sedans (of which 2 EVs).
After a successful launch of its first crossover, the Roewe RX5, SAIC launches its first sedan with its new corporate design, and it immediately is one of the most mature looking Chinese sedans on the market. Gone are all the frivolous shapes and shiny chrome accents, well except for the grille, that is. You could almost call it boring. The i6 launches in one of the most difficult segments in China, that of affordable compact sedans, but still a segment with a lot of potential. Power comes from either a 1,0T three-cylinder with 125hp/170Nm mated to a 6MT or 7DCT gearbox or a 1,5T with 170hp/250Nm also mated to a 6MT or 7DCT gearbox. A PHEV version named i6e will follow soon, powered by a 1-liter three-cylinder withh 125hp and a 82hp electric motor. Dimensions are 4.671/1.835/4.460mm with a wheelbase of 2.715mm. [Read more…]
The Chinese car market is fluctuating in the first four months of 2017: After a stable January, a promising 20% gain in February 2017 and a modest growth of 2,9% in March, April sales are down 2,2% again, for a total of 1,68 million units. Of course, this is still the second-best ever April figure, and the YTD total now stands at 7,54 million, an increase of 3,8% on the first four months of 2016. The Seasonally Adjusted Annualized selling Rate stands at 21,4 million in April, the lowest figure in the past 12 months. Sales of vehicles with engines of 1,6 liters or less fell 10% to 1.14 million, after the central government phased out a tax break on these models at the beginning of this year. SUVs and crossovers are once again the main (and only) winners in April with sales up 10% to 674.000 units, while sedans sales decline for the second consecutive month at -7,3% to 840.000 sales and MPVs lose volume for the fourth month in a row at -15% to 153.000. New Engergy vehicle sales improved 7,9% to 34.300 units, as EV sales gained 19% to 28.500 units but PHEVs plunged 27% to 5.800 sales. The share of domestic automakers dipped below 42% for the first time since last August as they benefitted the most from the tax cut on small vehicles.
After a stable January, and a promising 20,2% gain in February 2017, March car sales in China are back to modest growth with a 2,9% increase to just over 2 million units. To put that small year-on-year growth into perspective: March 2012 sales just topped the 1 million units, so the market has doubled in 5 years time. In that light, a 3% improvement is quite a slowdown. Then again, first quarter sales are up 6% to 5,78 million and that’s on par with expectations, as sales growth was expected to slow down into the single digits after the tax increase on cars with engines of 1,6 liters or smaller, which made up over 70% of total sales last year. The Seasonally Adjusted Annualized selling Rate stands at 23,5 million in March. SUVs and crossovers are the main (and only) winners in March with sales up 20% to 832.300 units, while sedans surprisingly show a loss of 4,9% to 990.200 sales (first quarter sales are up just 0,8%), and MPVs lose volume for the third month in a row at -15% to 199.300. The central government cut EV subsidies last January but when sales plummeted to almost a halt that month, the subsidies were quickly reinstated, and as a result Sales of New Energy vehicles (EVs and PHEVs) jumped 36% in March to 25.342 EVs and 5.778 PHEVs, but the Q1 figure is still down 4,7% to 44.333 EVs and 11.596 PHEVs. After domestic brands broke a new record share of 46,5% in February, foreign automakers struck back in March with their locally produced models as the share of the domestics dropped to 43,6%. [Read more…]
President Donald Trump has offended the Mexicans in more than one way, and building even a virtual wall between the US and Mexico will affect trade between the two powers in a negative way, which would greatly affect the automotive industry, perhaps more than any other. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a great number of carmakers have set up manufacturing facilities south of the Rio Grande to benefit from more than just lower wages to produce their lowest-margin vehicles. Any disturbance in the free trade agreement, most likely import duties, would increase costs for these manufacturers and have a negative impact on consumer prices in the US. Ford has already withdrawn plans to build a new US$1.6 billion plant in central Mexico’s San Luis Potosi in January in favor of a US$700 million upgrade to its Flat Rock, Michigan plant and others may think twice before becoming the target of one of Trump’s Twitter rages. However, as the US is shunning Mexico, the Chinese are more than happy to step in and invest in the growing market.
The success of Mexico
But first we need to look at what made Mexico such a phenomenal automotive production hub, and why automakers from outside North America have invested more than US$13.3 billion in Mexico since 2010, which is more than half of the US$24 billion invested in total. Ironically, Mexico’s low wages make up only a small portion of the explanation, as the biggest reason to build in Mexico is that the country has freer trade with the rest of the world than the US does: Mexican-made cars can be exported duty-free to 44 countries compared to just 20 for US-made cars, which make up only 9% of global car sales. [Read more…]