Thursday, April 2, 2009
China's Electric Ambitions
With China poised to surpass the United States as the world's largest automobile market this year, the Chinese government has announced plans to help the nation leapfrog Japan to become the largest producer of all-electric and hybrid vehicles in the world. By committing to electric vehicle production, China is also attempting to reduce urban air pollution, carbon emissions and growing dependence on imported oil.
Even as the world faces slowing demand for automobiles, vehicle sales in China and India have jumped last month by 25% and 22% respectively.
Monthly demand for automobiles in the world's two most populous countries had been rising by double-digits in the first half of 2008 as a growing middle-class enjoyed the fruits of a booming global economy. Then the credit crisis hit, and demand slowed. But the governments in the two Asian nations have since rolled out incentives to reverse that trend, helping year-over-year sales.
Currently, China is behind the United States, Japan and other countries when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles, but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next, according to the New York Times.
The new auto-industry plan, published on the main Web site of China's central government, said China aims to build capacity to manufacture 500,000 "new energy" vehicles, such as all-electric battery cars and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles. The plan aims to increase sales of such new-energy cars to account for about 5% of China's passenger vehicle sales.
The new package, which is supposed to supplement auto-industry stimulus steps announced in January, is designed to keep overall sales in the world's second-biggest car market growing at an average of 10% annually over the next three years, the government said.
Beyond manufacturing, subsidies of up to $8,800 are being offered to taxi fleets and local government agencies in 13 Chinese cities for each hybrid or all-electric vehicle they purchase. The state electricity grid has been ordered to set up electric car charging stations in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
The 10% growth target is considered ambitious by some analysts, but if China succeeds, it would have auto sales of well over 10 million units this year, and could displace the U.S. as the world's biggest auto market by unit sales, according to the Wall Street Journal.
U.S.-based consulting firm CSM Worldwide forecasts China's overall vehicle sales to grow by 6% to 7% to about 10 million vehicles. Achieving 10% growth in overall vehicles sales this year "will not be so easy" given the slowdown in China's export-led economy, said Yale Zhang, a Shanghai-based senior analyst at CSM.
In comparison with the rest of the world, the Chinese market for automobiles appears to be relatively robust. Monthly auto sales in China surpassed those in the U.S. for the first time in January, but automakers and industry watchers say the news may tell us more about the troubles in the U.S. than about China's growing car market, says a report published in San Francisco Chronicle.
Data released in February by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers shows 735,000 new cars were sold in China last month, down 14.4 percent from the record of 860,000 set in January 2008. U.S. sales, meanwhile, fell 37 percent to 656,976 vehicles — a 26-year low. Some analysts believe U.S. sales may fall to about 10 million vehicles this year.
The weekend announcement also reiterated Beijing's determination to consolidate the country's fledgling auto sector, which has more than 80 auto makers across the country. The government wants a less-splintered industry with fewer auto companies each generating significantly larger sales volumes.
The Chinese central government wants to consolidate the auto industry through mergers and acquisitions into fewer than 10 groups of manufacturers, down from the current 14, according to the announcement. The announcement said the government would "encourage" FAW Group Corp., Dongfeng Motor Corp., SAIC Motor Corp. and Changan Automobile (Group) Co., among others, to "implement mergers and acquisitions" around the country to form large auto groups.
Like China, Indian auto sales have also seen significant growth in the last few years, but the Indian auto market is much smaller. Tata Motors has recently launched its low-cost Nano minicar to revive growth in the midst of a slowdown by aiming at the motorcycle upgrade market. With a starting price of about $1,945, which doesn't include dealer markup and other charges that consumers will pay, the Nano will be one of the world's cheapest cars.
The automobile industry in India—the tenth largest in the world with an annual output of 2 million units last year—is expected to become one of the major global automotive industries in the future. A number of domestic companies produce automobiles in India and the growing presence of multinational investment, too, has led to an increase in overall growth. Following the economic reforms of 1991 the Indian automotive industry has demonstrated sustained growth as a result of increased competitiveness and reduced restrictions. The monthly sales of passenger cars in India exceed 100,000 units, according to a related Wikipedia entry.
In Pakistan, Engineering Development Board (EDB) is attempting to increase the GDP contribution of the automotive sector to 5.6%, boost car production capacity to half a million units as well as attract an investment of US$ 3 billion and reach an auto export target of US$ 650 million.
In addition to the growing defense industry, auto industry can become a driving force for the much needed manufacturing industrial base in Pakistan to create significant employment opportunities for its large population. Last year, the auto sector contributed US$ 3.6 billion, only about 2% of the GDP, to the national economy, and employed about 192,000 people.
Pakistan's auto parts manufacturing is a billion US dollars a year industry. Sixty percent of its output goes to the motor cycle industry, 22% is for cars, and the rest is consumed by trucks, buses & tractors.
After a significant growth spurt in 2002-2006, the auto sector is feeling the pain of economic slow-down in Pakistan. The industry is continuing in a slump which began in the previous financial year and according to Business Monitor International's recently published Pakistan Automotives Report, the industry’s performance this year will get worse. In FY08, which ended in June 2008, total vehicle sales fell by 6.2%. The downturn carried over into FY09, with sales for the first half of the year (July to December 2008) down by 48% year-on-year to 52,927 units for cars and light commercial vehicles (LCVs), while compared with November, sales for December were down 55%. These results support BMI’s forecast for a drop in sales of cars and LCVs to around 112,000 units in FY09. BMI expects the total auto market in Pakistan to contract by over 32%, with the worst damage done in the car and bus segments, which is forecast to fall by 45% each. Pakistan’s Economic Co-ordination Committee (ECC) is to consider a tax cut of 10% for domestic car manufacturers, which has been proposed by the Ministry of Industries and Production. However, the plan is not without its opposition, as the Federal Board of Revenue is reportedly against supporting individual sectors as this would prompt other industries to seek help. Moreover, with just five carmakers producing locally, the automotive industry is relatively small. On the other hand, the industry is also largely self-sufficient as the majority of its output is sold within Pakistan; this reduces the country’s reliance on imports and raises issues such as the protection of local jobs and the industry’s contribution to the overall economy.
Among the automakers, Indus Motors and Pakistan Suzuki reported positive earnings: The two leading car assemblers PSMC and INDUS posted positive earnings for 2008. PSMC reported operating losses of Rs 399 million. However, increase in other income by 77 percent offset their losses helping PSMC post positive earnings of Rs 26 million, according to Daily Times. Honda posted a loss after tax of Rs 190 million for the period July-December 2008 after a decline in net sales by 5 percent and a massive surge in operating expenses over the corresponding period last year.
The poor state of the industry is reflected in BMI’s Business Environment Rating for the automotive industry in Asia Pacific, where Pakistan is in last place on a score of 42.4 out of a possible 100. The market is held back by low production growth potential and an average rating for sales growth. However, as a signatory to the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the country’s regulatory environment scores well. A number of free trade agreements also contribute to this criterion, although forming FTAs with non-Asian countries would improve this rating further. Despite low marks for bureaucracy and corruption, the market does score well for its long-term economic risk and policy continuity.
With just a handful of manufacturers, Pakistan’s competitive landscape remains narrow. Japanese car manufacturers control most of the country’s passenger car production and sales. Figures for FY08 show that Suzuki-brand models represented 62% of total Pakistani passenger car production and 51.7% of sales. Toyota is gaining, however, with Corolla becoming the country’s best-selling model in the first half of FY09.
According to Daily Times, as many as 60,000 workers and staffers in Pakistan's auto sector have lost their jobs from July, 2008 to January, 2009 due to falling demand for cars. More jobs cuts are feared with continuing weakness in demand.
Given strong underlying growth dynamics in South Asia, the negative feedback effects of the global financial crisis are expected to be temporary. A relatively rapid rebound is expected in 2010, with a projected revival of GDP growth to 7.2 per cent. The long term prospects for the auto industry in the continent of Asia appear to be quite favorable. As the current financial crisis ebbs, there will be significant pent-up demand for automobiles in Asia, including India, Pakistan and China, that will drive the growth in auto industry.
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