Japanese carmaker Honda Motor's first-quarter sales in China have exceeded its earthquake-hit home market for the first time, according to figures released yesterday, while Volkswagen Group sold twice as many cars on the mainland in the first three months as it did in Germany, data released earlier this week showed.
US carmaker Ford Motor, meanwhile, reported US$2.6 billion in net income on Tuesday, its highest quarterly profit in more than a decade, after US sales grew 16 per cent by volume - but China sales grew faster, rising 18 per cent from a year earlier.
Growth of passenger car sales on the mainland may have slowed to 9.1 per cent in the first quarter - a snail's pace compared with soaring growth of 35 per cent last year and 53 per cent in 2009 - but for most foreign firms, sales growth outperforms both the overall mainland market and volumes in their home markets.
The net effect is that for many of the world's biggest carmakers, China is rapidly becoming their biggest overseas market by volumes sold, if not their No 1 overall market globally.
And the first few months of this year have seen foreign firms gaining market share against locals.
The expiry on January 1 of mainland government car purchase subsidies, tax breaks and rebates has had an inverse impact on local carmakers. Their share of the mainland passenger car market slipped to 46.38 per cent in the first quarter from 49.23 per cent a year earlier, official data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed.
The impact of the shift is evident in first-quarter earnings reports.
Hyundai Motor's mainland sales surpassed domestic volumes last year. Its mainland joint venture, Beijing Hyundai, saw sales rise to 182,000 units, up 12 per cent from a year earlier. South Korean sales dropped 1 per cent to 167,000 units over the same period.
But revenue in China rose at a faster pace. Beijing Hyundai's first-quarter revenue grew 30 per cent to 2.933 trillion won (HK$21.4 billion), Hyundai said yesterday.
Honda's first-quarter car sales in Japan were heavily affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, falling 22 per cent to 142,000 units, it said. Mainland sales rose 1 per cent to 165,675 units, surpassing sales in Japan for the first time, figures from JD Power and Associates showed.
Volkswagen saw German sales volumes rise 5 per cent in the first quarter to 268,654 cars, while mainland sales rose 20 per cent over the same period to 548,790 units.
Bumper to bumper
China is a key source of revenue growth for foreign carmakers
Mainland sales help give Ford Motor the highest quarterly net profit in a decade of this much, in US$: $2.6b