Car sales in China are up 8,3% in April after a 12% increase in March. With almost 1,7 million sales of locally produced models, the market has almost doubled since 2010. The Seasonally Adjusted Annualized Selling Rate is 21 million in April, the first time ever the SAAR has topped 20 million units four months in a row. Year to date, the growth of the Chinese car market is 8,9% to 7,1 million units. After enjoying record shares of over 43% in January and February, local brands are down to 38,8% of sales, still slightly above the full year 2015 figure, but indicating the foreign brands are fighting back for their piece of the world’s largest car market. The impressive surge of SUVs is also slightly slowing, but still very impressive at +33,3% to 610.000 sales, while MPVs improve at half that speed with an increase of 16,7% to 182.000 sales and sedans are still down, this time losing 2,5% to 905.000 sales. The Chinese market is not only impressive in terms of volume, but also in terms of the number of models: 415 different locally produced models of passenger cars were sold in April, of which 7 all-new nameplates. When including imported models, pick-up trucks and minivans, the number will almost reach a dizzying 1.000 different nameplates.
The big event this month is the new best seller on top of the rankings. After another price cut of 10%, inspired by increasing competition from most notably the Baojun 560, the Haval H6 saw its sales surge 43% to 43.946 units, overtaking both the perennial best seller Wuling Hongguang MPV and the Volkswagen Lavida sedan, even when sales of the Gran Lavida hatchback are combined with those of the sedan. This means China’s best selling SUV is now also China’s best selling passenger car overall for the first time ever. Year-to-date, the Hongguang still holds that title, but the Great Wall SUV brand has picked up the gauntlet to challenge its dominance. The Baojun 560 in its turn is down into 9th place vs. #4 year-to-date, and is even outsold by its rival GAC Trumpchi GS4 for the first time since the 560’s launch last July.
Volkswagen sees its sales improve 9,5%, which brings it back into positive territory year-to-date. The brand got the biggest boost from the Magotan and Lavida sedans, as it still lacks a crossovers and SUVs besides the aging Tiguan. Its sister brand Skoda was also up 9,3% and Audi increased sales of locally produced models 12,7% to 47.440. Its closest rival BMW gained 5,1% to 23.443 but stays narrowly ahead of Mercedes-Benz, up 37,9% to 22.430 units. Year-to-date, Mercedes still outsells BMW and if it keeps it up until the end of the year, it would be the first time ever to do so in China. Volvo loses 10,9% of volume, but DS does even worse at -38,7% as all of its existing models decline and the DS 4S which was launched last month adds just 225 units, although that’s still better than the DS 5 and DS 5LS combined.
The other two PSA brands don’t fare much better, with Citroën losing 22,1% and Peugeot down 22,6% as only the Citroën C3-XR and the Peugeot 301 and 508 show increases over the same month last year. Last month’s newcomer Renault takes a breather at 1.641 sales for the Kadjar after 2.753 sales in its first month, but that means it still sold more units in these two months than the two Fiat models combined.
Thankfully FCA is no longer purely dependent on Fiat for the Chinese market, as the Jeep Cherokee sells over 9.000 units for the second consecutive month, and it will be accompanied by the Renegade in the coming months, followed by the all-new successor to the Compass and Patriot later this year. Jeep still outsells Cadillac, despite that brand more than doubling its sales on last year, as the XTS shows a nice improvement and the XT5 crossover was launched this month. The CT6 sedan is still a bit shy with just 419 sales. Buick shows impressive gains of 43%, boosted by the Envision SUV, Verano sedan, but also from the decade-old Excelle, which has miraculously recovered from the same month last year, when I thought it would finally be killed off. Chevrolet slows down its sales plunge with just -27,2%, for a year-to-date score of -35,5% as all of its models lose volume, especially its Trax and Captiva crossovers. Its cross-town rival Ford also lost volume, but for the first time this year at -15,7%. Year-to-date, Ford is still up 7,7%, but it may suffer in coming months as the brand has scheduled maintenance in its Chongqing factory where the Ecosport crossover and Focus and Mondeo sedans are produced. This means the plant will be idled for the remainder of the second quarter.
At the Japanese brands, the big-3 continue to improve while the smaller brands keep plummeting. Thanks to its focus on crossovers, Honda is the big winner again with sales up 22,8%, which is actually the lowest growth rate this year. Nissan follows with a plus of just 5,1%, also mostly boosted by crossovers, while Toyota sales are almost flat at +1%. Reversely, Mazda loses 20,5% after gaining 13% last month, while Suzuki is down 21,5% with all of its models down again, except for the Alivio sedan and the newcomer Vitara. Mitsubishi does even worse at -38,4% to a mere 3.388 sales, although that’s still the brand’s highest volume this year and the slowest decline, as it is down 58,3% for the year so far. Infiniti has an off-month with both of its locally produced models down to a record low, as the brand racks up just 583 sales, compared to an average of almost 2.300 monthly sales over the past 12 months.
Mixed results for the South-Korean brands in China, with Hyundai up for the first time this year thanks to an increase of 6,6%. The new generation Elantra Lingdong which was launched last month gives a nice boost to the brand, as almost all of its other models lose volume, except for the new generation Tucson crossover and a slight improvement of the ix25 small crossover. At sister brand Kia, things are not looking up, as it loses volume for the fourth month this year, at -10,5%. The addition of the new generation Sportage, called Kia KX5 in China, can’t offset losses at most of its other models, except for the K3 sedan and a slight improvement of the KX3 small crossover.
As usual, big winners and big losers among the local brands. GAC has been a winner since the launch of its first crossover GS4 last May, and continues to ride that wave to more than triple its volume over last year. SAIC Roewe almost doubles its volume thanks to the 360 sedan and the 550 hybrid which now takes 97,6% of sales for the 550 sedan. Zotye adds 70% on the influx of new models launched in recent months, most notably the Damai X5 crossover and the SR7 Audi Q3-clone. Similarly, BAIC Beijing Auto benefits from its high frequency of new model launches and grows by 53,3% on last year. Like GAC, Soueast is boosted by its first crossover model, the DX7 Bolang, as its 3 sedan models all lose more than half of their volume. Baojun loses some of its sparkle at “just” +36,7% after enjoying four consecutive months of more than doubling its volume. The 730 MPV is the main culprit, down to its lowest volume since its introduction 21 months ago, but also the 560 SUV down to its lowest volume since last October. Qoros shows a nice increase of 29,4% thanks to the Qoros 5 SUV launched last month, but it’s still a long way from becoming successful, as it’s still a niche player and far off its initial sales target.
On the other end of the spectrum, Venucia is in dire need of some fresh product, especially crossovers, as the Dongfeng-Nissan brand loses 22,1% in April, punished for not anticipating the exploding demand for affordable SUVs, but the brand says it will have some new models coming up later this year. Wuling suffers from increased competition for the Hongguang, which led to the model losing its sales crown for the first time since its launch, and to the brand’s 27,8% decline this month. Luxgen loses almost half of its volume and Lifan even more at -63% despite the successful launch of the Maiwei SUV this month. Great Wall has all but stopped building cars in order to focus solely on its pick-ups and the Haval SUV brand, while Gonow has stopped building cars and apparently has mortgaged off all of its production equipment and real estate to pay off its debt, after years of slow sales.
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