For the first time in more than a decade, new car sales in India have failed to post a year-over-year increase. Instead, a sharp drop in sales spells bad news for carmakers with heavy investments in that important developing market.
According to information released by the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers and reported by the WSJ, passenger car sales declined by 9.6 percent in 2013 to around 1.8 million units. Total passenger vehicle sales were down 7.2 percent to 2.55 million units. Many factors contributed to the decline, but inflation is the primary culprit. This past year in India saw a slowing of economic growth as prices surged, squeezing the purchasing power of the burgeoning middle class. Besides the spike in new-vehicle prices, the general cost of ownership has also risen. The rollback of government controls on fuel prices has led to higher costs for gasoline. Loan rates have also risen, giving many consumers second thoughts about purchasing a new car. The decline of new car sales illustrates the pitfalls of investing in emerging markets, which demonstrate strong aggregate growth but are often volatile in nature.
Ford, Honda, Hyundai, and Suzuki have all invested heavily in the Indian market in recent years. If growth remains stagnant or declines, it could lead to retrenchment from manufacturers who previously bet big on the emerging economy. Instead of increased domestic sales, manufacturers may turn to exporting. Ford in particular has spent nearly a billion dollars to expand Indian manufacturing capacity in the anticipation of future growth. The introduction of the EcoSport SUV helped lift overall December sales for Ford India, with a 2.84 percent increase over the previous year. But that sales increase came from a nearly 10 percent decline in domestic sales a 22 percent rise in exports. If Ford’s (or any other company’s) plans for Indian domestic growth don’t pan out, it could lead to all kinds of interesting arrangements in an attempt to maximize sunk capital investments. Indian-built EcoSport for the American market, anyone?