Car sales in China are back into double digit growth in March after a dip in February due to the Lunar new year celebrations. The total market grows 12% to just under 2 million sales, bringing the year-to-date total to almost 5,5 million sales, an increase of 8,8%. The share of local brands comes down from its record 44% in February to 40,5% in March, slightly above the 40,1% of the same month last year. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that SUVs and crossovers are still the fastest growing segment in China by far, at +46% to almost 690.000 sales. MPVs gain 12% to 207.000 sales, while sedans continue to slump at -3% to 1,07 million sales. No wonder 7 out of 12 new models this year are crossovers.
The most important happening for the European brands is the launch of Renault as a local manufacturer. Although the French brand has taken its time, it shows that it understands the Chinese car market perfectly by starting off with a crossover, the Kadjar. A second SUV will follow soon to replace the imported Koleos. The Kadjar sells over 2.700 units in its first month, which is pretty impressive and not far behind the Peugeot 3008 (down 43% to just under 3.000 sales). Peugeot and Citroën continue to struggle in China as they lack crossovers and their sedan line-up is ageing. Peugeot loses 20% for the third consecutive month as all of its models lose volume and the 308S hatchback struggles to make a mark. Citroën does even worse at -24% as only the C3-XR crossover improves while the new C4 sedan can’t make up for losses of the brand’s other sedans. No bright spots for PSA? Well, DS improves 19% to a still very shy 1.355 sales.
Skoda (+5%) has already passed Citroën and is closing in on Peugeot quickly, despite having a line-up of European cars compared to mostly China-specific models at Citroën. Volkswagen returns to positive territory with sales up 20% and flat year-to-date sales, helped by the Lavida, Sagitar, Magotan and Lamando sedans. Audi gains as well, at +16% while BMW improves 12% but Mercedes-Benz continues to close in at +33%.
Buick continues to gain market share in China thanks to the successful launch of the Verano, the updated Excelle GT and the ongoing success of the Envision SUV. On the other hand, Chevrolet has shown double digit losses for the 12th consecutive month with sales down another 38,5% in March as the Cruze is due to be redesigned and the new generation Malibu is ready to be launched, but the Sail has completely lost its mojo, with Q1 sales lower than just March sales of last year, while the Lova RV station wagon doesn’t add much to soften the blow. The Trax small crossover can’t keep up with the competition from most notably Honda. Cadillac has an off-month as the all-new CT6 is still in start-up mode and the ATS-L loses volume on its record month last year.
Ford celebrates 6 months of volume gains thanks to its growing line-up of SUVs, with the Kuga gaining more than 50%, and the all-new Edge adding over 9.000 sales. But its sedans also help push volume with the Mondeo up more than 30% and the all-new Taurus adding over 3.700 sales, although that’s still far behind the Buick LaCrosse (15.324) and even the Skoda Superb (6.697).
Jeep hits a new record at over 9.000 sales for the locally produced Cherokee, up from 700-800 per month when it was still imported. It’s closing in on the Audi Q5 (11.840). If local production of the new C-segment crossover starts to replace the imported Compass and Patriot, Jeep should be able to reach 300.000 annual sales in China. The Compass was one of China’s best selling imports last year at an average of 3.000 monthly sales, and the Patriot added another 1.000 to that figure.
The trend that we’ve seen in recent months continues, with the three large Japanese auto makers gaining ground, while the two small ones stumble. In the middle is Mazda which zigzags from gains to losses. Nissan stays the biggest Japanese brand thanks to sales up 31% thanks to the Qashqai, X-Trail, Sylphy and the new Lannia, followed by Toyota also up 31% thanks to the Corolla and Levin, Highlander and Prado, and Honda up 35% thanks to sales rising across the board, except for the Civic which is changing over to the new generation. Mazda has a good month, after losing 15% in February it gains 13% in March, boosted by the Mazda3 Axela (+79%).
In contrast, Mitsubishi is down 54%, selling as many cars in the first quarter as it did last year in just March, and Suzuki loses 31% despite the successful introduction of the Vitara, which has already become the brand’s best selling model in its fourth month of sales. Six out of the 7 other models show losses of more than 38%.
Infiniti’s growth curve starts to stabilize as local production of the QX50 crossover now started more than a year ago.
Hyundai is stable but loses market share at -2% in March as the new generation Elantra Lingdong can’t offset losses of the 3 previous generations Elantra, while the Sonata (-52%) and Verna (-30%) sedans also struggle. Its crossovers are more successful, with the new Tucson reaching a record volume at 15.201 sales. A similar trend is visible at sister brand Kia, with all of its sedans losing more than 20% of their volume, while its crossovers are boosted by the new KX5. Overall, Kia loses 16% in March.
March is the fourth month of triple digit sales improvements for Baojun, the SAIC-GM-Wuling brand that has successfully launched the 560 crossover, which already threatens the Haval H6 for best selling SUV in China. But its 109,8% growth in March is outperformed by no less than 7 other Chinese brands, although none comes even close to the volume increase of Baojun.
SUV specialist Leopaard is the fastest growing Chinese brand with sales up eightfold thanks to two successful new models, even though the Q6 isn’t really all-new considering it’s basically a 2nd generation Mitsubishi Pajero. GAC Trumpchi almost triples its volume thanks to the GS4 crossover as its other models all but disappear from the ranking. Qoros finally starts to gain some traction with a record month helped by the introduction of the Qoros 5 SUV, which immediately becomes the brand’s best selling model in its first month of sales. Changhe also starts to bloom after getting some attention from its parent BAIC. The new Q25 crossover starts modestly but will soon challenge the Freedom M50 as the brand’s best selling model. Soueast is the last of 9 Chinese auto makers who more than double their sales year-on-year, with sales up 101% boosted by the DX7 Bolang crossover. Each of its 3 other models can’t even hit 1.000 sales for the second month running.
If there are winners, there must be losers, although not that many. Volume-wise, Shanghai-GM’s minivan maker Wuling takes the biggest hit with a loss of almost 13.000 sales, followed by Lifan and Chery, both at more than 11.000 lost sales. Lifan is also the biggest relative loser at -77% as none of its sedans sells more than 400 units and its crossovers are hit especially hard from increased competition. With just 10.000 sales in the first quarter and export sales also hit hard, the future of Lifan as an independent auto maker looks bleak.
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