Is The Chinese Car Market Showing Signs Of Slowing?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

The rise of the Chinese auto market, which only surpassed the US to become the world’s largest in recent years, has drawn considerable attention from China-watchers and industry insiders alike. China’s rampant sales growth has paid huge dividends for firms who gambled on the Chinese market, in turn spurring more investment as every global automaker scrambles for access to China’s rapidly-developing market. As a result of several years of this gold rush mentality, everyone is now looking for China to stumble, to show the first signs of a bubble ready to burst.And over at Forbes, Handel Jones (the author of Chinamerica: The uneasy partnership that will change the world), thinks he may have found these first signs of slowdown in China’s auto production numbers.

Handel attributes the slowdown to three factors:

– The roads of the large cities, which represent the concentration of buying power for automobiles, are already highly congested. The fees for getting license plates in Shanghai are already over 50K yuan. One cannot imagine many more cars on the roads of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Even in the smaller cities, the traffic jams are becoming longer and longer. The potential speed of the cars is increasing, but the actual traveling speeds of cars in the large cities are slowing. It can oftentimes be faster to walk than to drive.

– Oil prices are increasing, with saturation in output from oil wells that are low-cost to operate. The oil imports of China are increasing, with increased competition for buying oil, which is resulting in prices per barrel of oil at the $112.00 level. Inflation has to be controlled, and oil and transportation costs affect many areas, including food costs.

– Cars need to be parked, and parking for cars is competing for space for people. Do car parks get built or do apartments get built?

Valid arguments, to be sure, but with Chinese car ownership still at 52 per 1,000 people, Handel’s brand of China-bear analysis remains a tough sell. On the larger level, however, the prospect of hundreds of millions of new cars taking to China’s roads has undeniable social, political, economic and environmental implications. Handel’s production data point is more likely to indicate a speedbump rather than a full-blown slowdown, but it’s never too early to consider the long-term evolution of the world’s largest car market.

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  • Kevin L. Copple Kevin L. Copple on May 25, 2011

    "The rise of the Chinese auto market, which only surpassed the US to become the world’s largest in recent years, has . . ." The Chinese auto market is only "larger" because it includes vehicles that are much smaller size, lower quality, fewer luxury features, fewer safety features, smaller engine capacity, smaller cargo capacity, etc. Many are little more than golf carts with windows. The US market is still larger in terms of cubic inches, horsepower, funtional bumpers (as opposed to hollow plastic shells), square inches of tread, cubic feet of passenger/cargo space, warranty coverage, etc. As I live and drive here in China, I could go on and on. But, it's comparing apples and oranges in all the ways that affect automotive goodness.

  • Andrewpmk Andrewpmk on Feb 16, 2012

    As China develops economically I think that car ownership levels will rise to levels comparable with more developed Asian countries like Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Car ownership levels in the dense cores of major cities will undoubtedly be lower but car ownership levels in the suburbs, second tier cities and rural areas are going to rise dramatically as incomes increase. Do not forget that in the outer suburbs of big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, traffic congestion is nowhere near the levels found in the city or inner suburbs and car is often much faster than public transport for suburb to suburb trips. I fully expect that Chinese cities will see a suburbanization trend similar to Tokyo for example. In second tier cities and rural areas where public transport is inferior/non existent and traffic congestion is not a problem there is massive room for growth as incomes increase.

  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that