Mainland car and van shipments make late surge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am


Mainland car sales ended the year on a relatively strong note, with shipments of new passenger vehicles rising last month to their highest levels since last January's record volumes.

Makers shipped 1.37 million new cars, SUVs and minivans to dealers last month, a 5.4 per cent increase from a year earlier, according to preliminary data released yesterday by the Shanghai-based China Passenger Car Association (CPCA).

Car makers appear to have been eager to fill showrooms for the sales boom that typically precedes the Lunar New Year holiday, falling in late January this year.

For the full year, passenger car sales in the world's biggest market rose to 14.5 million units last year, up 5.5 per cent from 13.75 million units in 2010.

Official figures will be released in the next few days by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (Caam), but the CPCA data has proven accurate, with an average margin of error of less than 0.5 per cent over the past 12 months.

'The market for passenger cars last month proved better than expected - not only did dealer inventories not climb, they actually fell,' CPCA secretary general Rao Da wrote on his blog. 'All this is giving a big boost to expectations for the market in 2012.'

Last year's 5.5 per cent growth in mainland car sales marked the slowest expansion in at least five years.

It was a sharp slowdown from the stimulus-fuelled boom of the previous two years, when a host of now-expired tax breaks and government subsidies saw passenger car sales surge 55 per cent in 2009 and 33 per cent in 2010.

But sales performance has varied widely across the market in recent months.

Luxury carmakers, for example, have continued to outperform, and growth trends accelerated in the fourth quarter for both Mercedes-Benz and Audi after they boosted mainland production capacity, Samsung Securities analyst Steve Man wrote yesterday in a report.

By contrast, sales of locally branded cars have lost market share to foreign-branded rivals. Also, sales of cheap but popular microvans have slumped, falling 6.1 per cent last month and 11.1 per cent for the full year, according to CPCA figures.

Rao said the CPCA was forecasting full-year passenger car sales growth of about 7 per cent this year, to 15.55 million units, provided there were no fuel tax jumps.