Manufacturing News

Light-vehicle sales jump 23% in May, but dealership inventories continue to swell

China's light-vehicle sales continued to pick up in May, with deliveries of cars, SUVs, microvans and multipurpose vehicles rising 23 percent year-on-year to nearly 1.3 million units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

But analysts warn that vehicle inventories are building up at China's dealerships, as automakers produce cars and trucks faster than dealers can sell them. Distributors will be pressured to sell vehicles at a loss to meet automakers' sales targets.

May's sales growth was led by the SUV segment. Nationwide, sales of SUVs last month surged 58 percent to 162,600 units.

Other segments also did well. Sales of cars jumped 20 percent to 893,300 units; microvans, 16 percent to 185,700 units; and MPVs, 11 percent to 40,300 units.

For the first five months, light-vehicle sales in China increased 5 percent to 6.3 million units, according to the manufacturers' association.

While May sales looked strong, automakers disclose only the number of vehicles sold to Chinese dealers, not consumers. Those sales figures don't always offer a true picture of consumer demand.

Carmakers and the state-backed manufacturers' association say they're confident demand is picking up. "There are clear signs indicating the industry is becoming more stable," Yao Jie, the association's deputy secretary general, said in Beijing. "For the first time this year, accumulative sales and production have exceeded that of a year earlier."

Strong Japanese sales
Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. led the sales surge as they recovered from the effects of last year's natural disasters.

Toyota's China sales in May more than doubled to 78,700 units. Honda reported a 92 percent surge and Nissan Motor Co.'s sales increased 20 percent.

Last year, production at the Japanese automakers was hurt by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and floods in Thailand. The Japanese automakers' year-to-year sales increase looked strong last month because sales in May 2011 were weak.

General Motors' sales rose 21 percent in May, led by demand for its Wuling minivan and Chevrolet models. Ford Motor Co. had its passenger vehicle deliveries gain 23 percent.

Kevin Wale, head of GM's China operations, said in a May 31 interview that he's "pretty optimistic it won't take much" to bring Chinese consumers "back into buying mode."

"I can't see anything in the Chinese environment that's leading to an unusual decline in consumer confidence," he said.

Dealers are less optimistic. Dealership inventories bloated to more than a 60-day supply by the end of May, compared with more than 45 days at the end of April, Luo Lei, deputy secretary general of the state-backed China Automobile Dealers Association, said in an interview last week.

A glut of cars
The glut at dealerships, which is leading to price cuts, is unsustainable, he said.

"The picture we have is very different from what the automakers are painting," Luo said. "The sales increases they're reporting are achieved by loading dealers with stock."

China's cabinet agreed last month to revive financial incentives for consumers to trade in their cars to help increase demand, a government official said last month. Separately, the finance ministry said on May 29 that the government will spend as much as 2 billion yuan a year to develop electric cars and plug-in vehicles to reduce fuel consumption.

But Dong Yang, deputy secretary general of the manufacturers' association, said at the briefing he was unaware of stimulus policies for the automotive industry "anytime soon."

One of the first steps may come as a government program to encourage sales of smaller, fuel-efficient cars, said Kevin Tynan, a Bloomberg Industries analyst. Said Tynan: "You will get some clear signals, some yellow lights, before you get to production cuts."

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