By on June 9, 2011

China’s auto sales fell 3.98 percent to 1.3828 million in May. Production dropped 4.89 percent to 1.3489 million units. This according to data released today by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), and reported by China’s state news agency Xinhua.

Three cheers for our patent-pending TTAC China sales oracle, a.k.a. GM China. It nailed the number pretty closely in May. GM China’s May sales were down 2.7 percent. All percentages compared to May 2010.

Zhu Yiping, CAAM’s assistant secretary general, said the decline in May was caused by the removal of tax incentives in car purchases this year, rising fuel costs, and the purchase limits in some cities that were put in place to combat traffic congestion.

Beijing alone did account for close to 5 percent of China’s car sales last year. Bringing Beijing’s car market to a near still stand should dampen overall sales a bit.

China had a preferential tax treatment on vehicles with a displacement of less than 1.6 liters last year. China also had a very successful “cars to the countryside” program. Both programs ended last year. That turned into a one-two-punch for small cars and mini-utes, hitting mostly the homegrown Chinese industry, while bigger bore cars made by joint ventures with state-owned enterprises were largely unaffected.

The small-bore segment represents big numbers in China. During the first five months, passenger vehicles with engine displacement smaller than 1.6 liters accounted for nearly 70 percent of total passenger vehicle sales.

Commercial vehicle output in the month reached 308,000, down 18.68 percent from April. Sales hit 339,900, down 17.03 percent, the figures showed. This could be a reaction to the one-two-punch. China’s countryside was flooded by “bread vans” while the subsidies were in effect. If it’s more than that, then China is in trouble: Commercial vehicle sales are usually taken as a leading indicator for the economy, while passenger vehicle sales are often used as trailing indicators. Counting passenger vehicles only, they are down 0.11 percent in May.

According to the CAAM, home-grown passenger vehicles brands held a market share of 45.4 percent, down 2.49 percentage points from a year ago. Foreign brands still hold the overwhelming rest. Countering popular wisdom, Japanese brands are the most liked foreigners in China with a total of 17.59 percent of the passenger vehicle market share. German brands come second with 15.5 percent, followed by American brands with 11.05 percent.  Bonus table to reward those who read through the boring stats.

Top Ten Chinese Automakers in May 2011

Maker Units
Shanghai GM 86,900
Shanghai Volkswagen 81,200
FAW Volkswagen 75,400
Dongfeng Nissan 48,100
Beijing Hyundai 47,400
BYD 39,100
Ford 33,700
Geely 32,000
Peugeot-Citroen 30,200
Chery 29,500
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