By on December 9, 2010

Passenger car sales in China jumped 29.3 in November as people rushed to lock in incentives set to expire at the end of the year. Demand will most likely be even stronger in December. In November, the end of the incentives was just a rumor. A few days ago, the end of government handouts became official, and  dealers already ran out of cars.

A total of 1.33 million sedans, sport utility vehicles and multi-purpose vehicles were sold in November, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said today via Reuters.

Let’s do a quick run of the numbers. According to the unofficial TTAC tally, new car sales in China for the first 11 months stand at 16.01 million. In December last year, more than 1.4 million cars were sold in China.  Even in the unlikely event of zero growth in December, China would beat the all-time U.S. high of 17.35 million cars sold in the year 2000.

The real number will most likely be better (or worse, depending how you look at it).

  • There already is a run underway on the dealerships, and people buy cars as fast as they can be delivered.
  • The running tally could be a bit confused from the lack of “commercial vehicles” which are included in the U.S. “light vehicle” count. When China reports total vehicle sales for 2010, sales in excess of 18 million are totally possible.

Ungrateful as they are, people are already getting worried about next year: “November sales are much stronger than what we had expected. But it’s abnormal and cannot last,” said John Zeng, an analyst with J.D. Power Asia Pacific. “People just want to take advantage of the incentive before it’s too late. That does not bode well for next year especially for the small-car segment, which has enjoyed a bull run thanks to the sales tax cut.”

What’s more, cities hardest hit by the car glut are thinking aloud about curbing the growth. After a lot of rumors, now there are the first hard reports that Beijing is considering a London-type congestion charge. According to other plans, each Beijing resident could be allowed to buy only one car. Just great: Beijing has 4.7 million cars now, but 22 million people. So if the one-car-policy is enacted … Run the numbers. And while you run the numbers, Beijingers mob the showrooms in even greater numbers to stay ahead of the possible limitations.

But even if the growth drops by half next year, that will be a lot of cars. Kevin Wale, president and managing director for GM China operations, thinks auto sales will grow by 10-15 percent in 2011. That would be around 20 to 21 million cars next year.

And anyway: The big growth will be in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. There’s still plenty of room to grow.

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