How To Lie With Car Statistics
Car sales in India powered ahead in January. India added 184,332 passenger cars to its roads, up 26.3 percent. According to the Hindustan Times, this was “the highest ever in a month eclipsing the previous record set only three months ago.” Allow me to use this opportunity for a small lecture on the use and abuse of auto industry statistics, in Asia, and around the world.
Whenever you see a sales number reported, make sure that you know what it is about. Have a look at this graph, also from the Hindustan Times. It looks spiffy. But it is an egregious example of what can go wrong.
The headline says: “ With 13.2 lakh vehicles, domestic auto sales were 19% up.” God help us.
First of, what is a lakh? As India gets important, it will be a term we will see often, so we better familiarize us with it. A lakh in India is 100,000.
Now 13.2 lakh vehicles would be 1.32 million. Did India buy 1.32 million autos in January? No way. India bought some 184,000 cars in January, and 1.32 million vehicles. How’s that? The Indians insist on counting three and two-wheelers as motor vehicles. This confuses everybody.
Here at TTAC, we try to follow the OICA model and count the total of “cars” and “commercial vehicles”.
OICA defines a motor vehicle as something that has ”at least four wheels, used for the transport of passengers, and comprising no more than eight seats in addition to the driver’s seat.” OICA and we add “commercial vehicles” to that count, because there is no clear worldwide definition of when a truck is “commercial” and when not. If we would eliminate all the “trucks” from the U.S. count for instance, America would end up having half the cars it has. (Trust me, there are statistics out there that say just that.)
If you check the graph, you see:
184,332 passenger cars, up 26.28 percent
233,994 passenger vehicles, up 24.68 percent
60,753 commercial vehicles, up 12.5 percent
That would amount, if there is no double counting, to 479,079 units as per our and OICA’s definition sold in January in India.
But there is double counting: According to the Indian industry association SIAM, “passenger vehicles” are the total of passenger cars, utility vehicles and multi-purpose vehicles (i.e. cars, SUVs and MPVs). Therefore, the actual total is 294,747. Phew!
When you read sentences like “Two-wheeler sales, which constitute almost 75 percent of total automobile sales in the country…” then it’s time to pause and to check a little more.
You think that’s just an Indian confusion? Be prepared to be surprised. Confusion reigns all over the world, and on this side of the pond as well.
The official 2010 sales number for China, according to the China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) is 18,061,900. This is the total of all motor vehicles according to OICA, no two- or three-wheelers included.
Many media outlets, such as the Detroit News, insist that “About 13.8 million vehicles were sold in 2010 in China compared with 11.6 million in the United States.” They didn’t say “cars”. They said “vehicles.” Not even motor vehicles. Sorry, wrong number. Nevertheless, that erroneous number is making the rounds.
There were 13.76 million “passenger cars” sold in China plus more than 4 million so called “commercial vehicles”. The total of motor vehicles sold was 18,061,900.
Also, since we are nitpicking, the size of the automotive industry of a country is (as per OICA) measured by production, not by sales. That can have dramatic impact for countries such as Japan, Korea, or Germany which have a high rate of export.
In China, the impact of exports is negligible. Here is the official word on the topic, straight from China’s CAAM:
“From January to December this year, China automobile production reached 18,264,700 units, an increase of 32.44% compared with the same period of last year; Production of passenger cars was 13,897,100 units, up 33.83 percent year on year; the output of commercial vehicle was 4,367,600 units, increased by 28.19% compared with the same period of last year.”
Be sure what you count: Cars? Trucks? Motorcycles? Trikes? The worldwide accepted benchmark used for the ranking of manufacturers and countries is all motor vehicles with 4 wheels or more that don’t run on rails.
Are you counting sales or production? Both have their place, but they need to be kept apart. The worldwide accepted benchmark used for the ranking of manufacturers and countries is production.
When you really want to know, go straight to the source. Numbers are misreported at an alarming rate.
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As Mark Twain said: "there are only 3 kinds of lies -- Lies, damned lies, and statistics"
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