GM China Copies Old Detroit Tactic: Sacrifice Profits For Volume

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

GM China always had a comfortable lead over Volkswagen in China – at least on paper. More than half of GM China’s volume comes from small delivery vans, made by a three-way joint venture with SAIC and Wuling, in which GM held 34 percent. This share had been recently raised to 44 percent. The joint venture agreement allows GM to claim 100 percent of the small cars as theirs. “Whatever turns them on” (or Chinese word to that effect) say the other JV partners who happily count the cars again in their annual reports. There is one big problem with that. The “breadvan segment” (so called because the cars looks like loafs on wheels) has been shrinking and is ruining GM’s otherwise good Chinese numbers. Now, GM can’t take it anymore, and is using a familiar tactic: “GM is sacrificing profit margins to maintain market share in China, cutting prices of low-cost minivans by as much as 15 percent to offset slowing sales in the world’s largest vehicle market,” Bloomberg reports.

“GM does not rely on the minibus for profit,” said Jenny Gu of J.D. Power China. “They only contribute volume.” At 15 percent off, the already razor-thin margin could evaporate. Now remember when we were young and swore we would stop when we need glasses? Same here.

“We made some short-term focused promotions to help the overall market situation,” Matthew Tsien, VP at SAIC-GM-Wuling, told Bloomberg. “We don’t expect it to be a long-term issue.” Same here.

June ’11June ’10ChangeYTDChangeShanghai GM101,52471,78241.4%600,00225.00%Chevrolet51,31238,30434.0%297,84114.50%Buick54,14036,48648.4%324,91928.20%Cadillac2,7221,81250.2%14,07888.30%Wuling88,02799,115-11.2%641,324-5.40%FAW-GM4,3275,220-17.1%30,332-38.80%All GM JV193,878176,4869.9%1,273,5025.30%

The best-selling Wuling Sunshine minivan has been reduced to 28,000 yuan ($4,384) from 33,000 yuan earlier this year, according to GM.

Before the price reduction, SAIC-GM-Wuling made about 2,000 yuan ($313) on average for every minivan, says J.D. Power. GM’s 44 percent stake would translate to $138 per car.

In the meantime, Volkswagen is breathing down GM’s neck. GM sold 1.27 million vehicles in China in the first six months, 641,000 of those Wulings (see table.) Volkswagen sold 1.1 million cars in the same time in China, none of them cheap minivans.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • NormSV650 NormSV650 on Aug 29, 2011

    What's the revenue difference between selling a car there and NA? I put my $ on their market! Sell, sell, sell!

    • MrWhopee MrWhopee on Aug 29, 2011

      Well, selling volumes shouldn't be a corporate's primary goal. After all, you can sell a lot of anything, no matter how bad or uncompetitive it is, if the price's low enough. Witness HP's $99 touchpad. Selling them at a profit, now that's the challenge!

  • Aqua225 Aqua225 on Aug 29, 2011

    It's like I've said before: All the people who needed to learn from the bankruptcy learned nothing because of the government bailout. GM had good volume before they bankrupted too. Why not just have the best car for the job?

  • Wolfwagen What I never see when they talk about electric trucks is how much do these things weigh and how much does that detract from the cargo-carrying capacity?
  • Wolfwagen I dont know how good the Triton is but if they could get it over here around the $25K - $30K They would probably sell like hotcakes. Make a stripped down version for fleet sales would also help
  • 3SpeedAutomatic You mentioned that Mitsubishi cars had lost their character. Many brands are losing that that element as well. GM is giving up on the ICE Camaro and Dodge on the ICE Challenger. There goes the Bad Boy image. Might as well get your teeth pulled and dentures put in place. Would like to see a few EVOs with cherry bomb exhaust and true 4 cylinder BIG blower turbos; 4 wheel drift capacity is mandatory!!🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos Here in my overseas summer palace, I filled up my tank twice in May, at 68 and 52 euros (a full 90+ liter tank fillup has taken 130-135 Euros in the past, and I am 23 miles from downtown here, while only 1-2 miles in the US)Still, diesel here is MUCH cheaper than gas. Yesterday, I paid 1,488 a liter while gas was at least 1,899 (regular).Multiply by almost 4 for gallons AND by an additional 1.1 for $.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic IIRC, both China and the EU use a standardized charger connection. About time the US & Canada to follow.Would take some of the anxiety out of an EU purchase and accelerate adoption. 🚗🚗🚗