GM is casting nervous glances at its perennial antagonist in China, Volkswagen. For both, China is a strategic high ground.
- GM sells more than a quarter of its global production in China. GM sold a record 2,547,171 units in China in 2011, which is more than the 2,503,797 units sold in the U.S. last year.
- Volkswagen also sells more than a quarter of its global production in China. Volkswagen sold a record 2.26 million units in China in 2011, which is twice the numbers of cars the Volkswagen Group sold back home in Germany.
“So?” I hear you say. “Both are doing great. What’s to worry?” Where shall I begin?
GM’s problem in China is that more than half of its Chinese sales are Wulings. They are made by a three-way joint venture in which GM holds a minority interest. They are cheap. A few thousand bucks buy you a Wuling Sunshine. Profits in this segment are razor-thin to non-existent. If GM currently gets much more than the bragging rights out of that deal, I will be amazed. The biggest problem: This segment is under pressure.
Without Wuling, GM’s Chinese achievements would stand in a better light. Shanghai GM sold 1.23 million cars in 2011, up 18.5 percent from a year earlier, an impressive feat, given the fact that the Chinese market “grew” by only 2.45 percent last year. However, without Wuling, GM China would be compared with Nissan. With Wuling being part of the total, GM China grew only by 8.3 percent in 2011.
Volkswagen’s performance in China is far better than the wulingfied GM China. Volkswagen’s Chinese sales grew 17.7 percent in 2011.
Both GM and Volkswagen are grabbing market share from other players. However, in the world’s largest car market, Volkswagen is grabbing market share twice as fast as GM. GM’s sales in China look high, but more than half of the volume comes from a low-cost, low-margin segment that is contracting.