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

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
counting cars a few hundred thousand here a million there and soon we ll talk

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.

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