Counting Cars: A Few Hundred Thousand Here, A Million There, And Soon We'll Talk About A Real Mess

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Car sales in China have become headline material the world over. However, numbers are often reported without checking, and even more often reported erroneously. Yesterday, we were tracking two reports of Chinese car sales, January-April. One set of data was from China’s official manufacturer association CAAM, the other from Reuters. They did not quite match. A day later, the confusion is even bigger.

Here are again the January-April sales data for select Chinese automakers:



Shanghai GM410,200431,309Shanghai VW355,900430,143Dongfeng Nissan237,100522,352Geely150,900155,078Dongfeng PSA142,100142,077

The Dongfeng PSA and Geely numbers are alright for China. For the others, I took the biggest outlier, that of Dongfeng Nissan, and requested the official number from Nissan HQ in Yokohama. It’s the one in the middle.


Nissan HQ

Dongfeng Nissan237,100446,806522,352

I was told officially by a Nissan spokesperson that “Nissan sold 446,806 units in China during the January-April 2012 period. April-only sales were 112,365 units.” Furthermore, I was told that Nissan has no idea where the other numbers came from.

All that may sound quite arcane to you, and it’s not as exciting as heel-toe shifting or a camshaft transplant. Yet, if reported sales can be off by a few hundred thousand units, and if none of the two numbers are correct, then one can safely assume further messes.

Like reports being off by a million.

Bloomberg (and gadzillions of media outlets that use the Bloomberg wire) reported a few days ago that Toyota “said this week that deliveries, including those of subsidiaries Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd., will grow 18 percent to 8.7 million vehicles in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013.”

Not true. Toyota said that sales of Toyota and Lexus cars are planned to grow to 8.7 million. Not including Daihatsu and Hino. I was there, and I checked back with Toyota today. Spokespeople confirmed again that the 8.7 million are Toyota and Lexus only, and that there is no new projection for Daihatsu and Hino. Global sales by Daihatsu and Hino usually add in the neighborhood of a million cars to the total, which would then climb to somewhere around 9.7 million. All by the usually highly conservative projections of Toyota.

Earlier, Bloomberg had (correctly) reported that Toyota “said in February that deliveries — including those of its Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd. units — will increase 21 percent to a record 9.58 million vehicles in the regular calendar year.” Toyota sure did. Someone should have noticed that a million cars were suddenly missing.

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.

More by Bertel Schmitt

Join the conversation
  • Redapple2 Another bad idea from the EVIL gm Vampire.
  • Daniel J Alabama is a right to work state so I'd be interested in how this plays out. If a plant in Alabama unionized, there are many workers who's still oppose joining and can work.
  • ToolGuy This guest was pretty interesting.
  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."