After six months of double digit declines, the Chinese passenger car market slows its downfall with a 9,6% loss of sales in March 2019. That marks the ninth consecutive month of year-over-year losses, but nonetheless a modest bright spot for the world’s largest car market. In March, a total of 1,93 million domestically produced passenger cars were sold in China, which brings the Q1 total to 5,15 million sales, down 14,4% on Q1 of 2018. These figures exclude commercial vehicles, minivans and imported cars. In the short term, the Beijing government is not planning any incentives to prop up the market, and in fact is sharply reducing subsidies on one of the fastest growing segments of the Chinese car market: that of EVs and plug-in hybrids. Rather, the government seems to see this market contraction as an excellent opportunity to consolidate the market as (too) small players will be forced to close down or be taken over, while the larger state-owned carmakers also feel extra pressure to merge their operations and cut loss-making domestic brands.
In March, sales of both sedans and SUVs are down by just over 8%, while MPV sales are down 17,5%. As a result, the share of sedans is up on last year, to 49,1%, with crossovers and SUVs represent 42,2% of the market, the third highest share in the last 12 months. The share of MVPs is down to 7,7%, which is actually the highest share this year so far, but still down from 8,4% a year ago. Within those figures, sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids surged 85% in March to over 126.000 sales, of which 96.000 EVs (up 84%), 30.000 PHEVs (up 87%) and 86 Fuel Cell vehicles. In the first quarter, sales of New Energy Vehicles more than doubled to nearly 300.000, including 227.000 EVs (up 122%), 72.000 PHEVs (up 80%) and 273 FCEVs.
The share of foreign brands jumped 4,5 percentage points on March 2018 to 59,5%, the highest share since last September. This is a result of a loss of 18,5% in sales of domestic brands, as import brands were down just 2,2%. Among these, the Japanese brands continued their hot streak with a gain of 14,5% in March, while European brands were down 5,2%, South-Korean brands down 4,6% and US brands down 21,4%. As a result, Japanese brands hit their second-highest share in China since 2012 at 21,38% after last January’s 21,44% while US brands hit their third-lowest share in China since 2003 at 9,28% after last month’s 9,25% and last December’s 9,11%.
In the models ranking, the Volkswagen Lavida (+16,3%) takes its third straight monthly win ahead of the Nissan Sylphy (+19,7%) and the Wuling Hongguang (-22%), the only three models above 40.000 sales this month, leaving the Haval H6 (-18,8%) as the best selling crossover in 4th place, with the only other crossover in the top-10 the Nissan X-Trail (+33%) in 8th place. That means there are 7 sedans in the top-10, of which 4 Volkswagens. Geely places the Boyue crossover (+2%) and EC7 sedan (+0,5%) just outside the top-10 and Honda has 3 models in the top-15 with the Civic (+19,2%), Accord (+47,4%) and CR-V (which suffered from an exceptionally weak month last year due to the changeover to the new generation). Just outside the top-15, the VW Tiguan is struggling with the internal competition from the brand’s expanded crossover line-up, while the Roewe i5 is down to #18 after nearly reaching the top-10 last month. VW has 7 models in the top-20 of which the Jetta (#19, +48,8%) is the best performer. Further down, the Honda Fit (#24, +147,3%), Kia Sportage R (#34, +734%) and BMW 3-Series L (#25, +54,2%) stand out positively, while the Baojun 510 (#32, -65,3%), Buick Envision (#47, -42,7%), Volkswagen Magotan (#29, -42%) and Hyundai Elantra Lingdong (#48, -41%) stand out negatively.
Just outside the top-50, the top performers are the BYD Tang (#52 with a take rate for the PHEV version of 62%), thanks to the new generation, the BYD Yuan (#58, +425%) thanks to the EV version and the BYD e5 (#73, +112,8%) as BYD’s electric offense is starting to pay off. The best selling EV in China however is the BAIC EU-series at #37. Also worth mentioning are the Haval M6, now the brand’s third best seller at #51, the Senove D50 (#80, +130,6%) thanks to the redesign and the Hyundai Celesta (#86, +428%) enjoying a second wind. Struggling models in the top-100 are the Baojun 310 (#92, -74,3%), GAC Trumpchi GS4 (#65, -63,6%), Roewe RX5 (#64, -58,7%) and Changan Eado (#70, -52,7%).
Best selling newcomer (<12 months) is the Haval F7 at #28, followed by the Geely Binyue at #40, the Chevrolet Monza, landing at #41 in its first month of sales, just shy of the model it intends to replace, the Chevrolet Cavalier at #39, down 29,4%. Other notable newcomers are the Jetour X70 at #55, the Volkswagen T-Roc at #59 and its sisters Tharu (#63) and Tayron (#66), as well as the BMW X3 (#68), Chery Tiggo 8 (#69) and Geely Binrui at #75.
Besides the Monza, we welcome the Geely Jiaji to the ranking at #168 as Geely’s first MPV model, the Volkswagen T-Cross at #180, which has a different front-end design in China compared to the European version, the Toyota Avalon at #224, already selling almost as much in China in its first month than it did in its prime market US, the Jetour X90 at #237 and the Honda Envix at #338, the copy of the succesful Honda Crider, but built by the brand’s other JV, as it also does with the Vezel and XR-v, the Avancier and UR-V, the Accord and Inspire and the City and Gienia.
Despite its wave of new crossover models, the VW brand is down 4,3% in March, although that does mean an improvement of market share. Mercedes-Benz outsells Audi for the third time this year with sales up 28,1% vs a loss of 8,8%, while BMW is back into third place among luxury brands, despite a 34,1% gain in March. Volvo also continues to improve in China with an 8,3% gain, but Land Rover and Jaguar are struggling with sales of their domestically produced models down by 33% and 31,4% respectively. Skoda maintains its negative trend as well, with another 28% decline in March, and sales of the French brands also continue to plummet, with Peugeot down 49,2%, Citroen down 63,5% and Renault down 78% to just 1.343 sales. Oh, and let’s not forget DS which sold a paltry 606 vehicles in China, in the first quarter.
Buick manages to slightly outperform the market at -8,8% but Chevrolet is down 13,6% as the brand is in the midst of a complete overhaul of its model portfolio which should help GM recover its lost market share in China. Cadillac is down just 5,3% and also outperforms the market. Ford on the other hand is in a downward spiral, being outsold by Mazda for the third consecutive month as sales tumble down by more than half. Jeep is in a similar downward trend with sales down by half as well.
Honda had two strange months in March and April last year with sales down by double digits as it was changing two of its best sellers to their new generations, but the brand more than makes up for that in 2019 with an impressive 38,1% gain to firmly take control of the #2 spot in the brands ranking, distancing Toyota and Nissan, both of which also gain significant market share with sales up 9,3% and 8,3% respectively. Among the smaller Japanese players, Mazda loses share at -14,4%, while Mitsubishi stabilizes with a 3,4% gain after two months of heavy losses. As Suzuki is winding down its brand in China, sales are down 43,4%. The Japanese luxury brands Infiniti and Acura see their sales improve by 9,3% and 11,3% respectively but both remain niche players, especially compared to Lexus which doesn’t even have local production and relies exclusively on (heavily taxed) imports.
Hyundai and Kia are not yet recovering strongly from the big losses they suffered in 2017, with Hyundai sales down 8,5% and Kia up just 4%. Their March sales are still down by almost 40% and 37,5% on 2016. In Q1, Hyundai is down 19,1% and Kia is up by less than 1%.
Geely maintains its position as best selling Chinese brand with sales up 2,8% and an overall #4 position and the only domestic brand to top 100.000 sales. Changan is down a painful 21,5%, while former superstar Baojun crashed hard with sales down by more than half, down from 7th place a year ago to #14 now. BAIC recovers from its losses in recent years and months with a 39,1% gain in March, mostly thanks to the redesigned Senova D50 and its EV sibling EU260. The brand is still down by 21,5% in the first quarter, though. As mentioned, BYD is on a roll with its New Energy models, with total brand sales up 8,6% but sales of its electrified models more than doubling to over 30.000, more than 63% of total brand sales. March also marks the 9th consecutive mont that BYD sells more EVs and PHEVs than traditional gasoline models, sales of which are down 43% this month. Wuling (-22%), GAC (-37,6%) and SAIC Roewe are struggling due to falling sales of their (former) best sellers, respectively the Hongguang, GS4 and RX5.
Among smaller domestic brands, Zotye continues to struggle with sales down by more than half, both in March and Q1. JAC sales are down by more than a third and FAW sales are down by almost a quarter as China’s oldest auto manufacturer is almost outsold by one of its youngest brands Jetour which is less than a year on the market. Wey is back ahead of Lynk & Co as the best selling semi-premium domestic brand, while Great Wall‘s newly launched EV brand Ora also reaches a new sales peak at over 7.000 deliveries. Brands that are unlikely to survive if they don’t turn around quickly are Brilliance (-73,8%), Soueast (-79,3%), Yema (-44,2%) and Borgward (-66,9%). Also, after a sudden surge at the end of last year after the brand had been transfered to a new owner, Qoros is down to oblivion with fewer than 200 sales in March and just over 800 sales in Q1.
China brands ranking March 2019
Please note these figures are for locally produced models only (unless stated otherwise), they exclude imported cars, which make up only a small portion of sales in China.
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