Chinese auto market hits the skids

Updated: 2011-08-12 15:39

By Wang Chao (

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BEIJING - The domestic sales figures might be different, but the short-term outlook for the Chinese auto market is still the same: gloomy. 

Sales of passenger cars dropped to 1.01 million in July, down from 1.1 million in the previous month, according to figures from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

The figures, which came three days after the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) released its own sombre sales numbers, indicate that the world's biggest auto market is in a funk, with experts predicting more stagnation in August.

According to the CPCA, domestic sales of cars, sports-utility vehicles, multi-purpose vehicles, and minivans dropped 6.1 percent from June to July. The July totals are the Chinese automobile industry's lowest sales numbers for passenger vehicles in 12 months.

Despite the recent sluggishness, the market grew modestly by 6.74 percent in July from a year earlier, largely because of the remarkable resilience of SUV sales, which grew by 20 percent.

From January through July, car sales were up 5.9 percent compared with the same period last year.

For major US automakers Ford and GM, the downturn has hit hard. Sales for GM's Chinese manufactures, Shanghai-GM and SGMW (a joint venture between GM China, SAIC and Liuzhou Wuling Motors) slipped from 185,900 in June to 166,000 in July.

Ford sold only 32,320 cars in July, far less than its rival, despite a slim year-on-year 3 percent increase.

Dong Yang, vice-chairman of CAAM, said there is no way that the domestic auto market's growth rate will outpace that of GDP this year, adding that domestic brands will be hit harder.

"Without subsidies and incentives, domestic brands will have a hard time in the rest of the year, since its competitiveness is yet to match the foreign brands," Dong said.

"Domestic brands can only eye on overseas market to recover some losses in the rest of the year," Dong said.

Peter Nesvold, equity analyst from Jefferies & Co, said it will be tough for US automakers to cash in on a gloomy economy after the debt crisis and the volatile week on Wall Street. Investors in auto stocks will also face a difficult time, said he.

"Thirty years of equity history suggests that it's difficult to make money in auto stocks into a fading macro backdrop — unless one takes the view that Monday was the bottom. We find it difficult to draw that conclusion," Nesvold said.

In spite of the sales data, GM CEO Dan Akerson was upbeat. He said from January through July, the company sold 1,446,901 vehicles in China. Last year, GM's market share in China outgrew its market share in the US.

"GM can be even more profitable when car and truck sales recover across the globe; when the market does recover, we should be able to really leverage it beyond what you've seen so far," Akerson said.

Joe Hinrichs, vice-president and Asia chief of Ford, admitted that Ford has "seen some pricing pressure in China", although the Focus and the Fiesta passenger cars are popular in China.

"In the last three or four months, the auto industry clearly is not growing at the rate it was last year or even in the first quarter," he said.

A recent report from J.D. Power showed that Ford still relies heavily on the US and European markets. In June, Ford's sales only accounted for 2.7 percent of the car market in China, far lower than GM's 10 percent.

Hinrichs pledged to bring 15 new models to China before 2015 and build four more factories with the help of Chinese partners.


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