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China Auto Sales Fall at Fastest Pace Since Covid Began

The steep sales decline was caused by swingeing lockdowns that shuttered production sites and sales outlets.

China carmakers delivered a million vehicles to dealers in the first nine months of 2022, but a brokerage says the market will slow down in 2023.
Cars for export wait to be loaded onto cargo vessels at a port in Lianyungang, China. China Merchants Bank analysts say sales are lagging behind deliveries and that could create a lag that becomes a problem in 2023. Photo: Reuters


China auto sales plunged 48% in April from a year earlier, the steepest fall since the Covid pandemic erupted in early 2020.

That’s according to an estimate by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, which also said car sales may fall 12.3% during the first four months of the year compared to the same period last year.

The huge hit to a major consumer durable sales reflects the economic costs of China’s measures to control the pandemic as factories and showrooms shut amid spreading lockdowns.

Showrooms, stores and malls across Shanghai were closed for most of the month and the city’s 25 million residents unable to shop (even online) for much except food and daily necessities.

Nomura analysts estimated in mid-April that 45 cities, representing 40% of China’s GDP, were under full or partial lockdown.

A survey by an auto dealer association found showrooms in 34 cities were closed at some point in April, most for more than a week.


China Auto Sales Were Booming

Before the Shanghai lockdown, sales of electric vehicles had been booming. Tesla’s sales in China had jumped 56% in the first quarter, while sales for EVs from its larger rival in China, BYD, had quintupled.

Earlier this week, three of China’s most prominent EV makers also reported sharply lower sales.

Xpeng Inc, NIO Inc and Li Auto Inc plunged by 41.6%, 49% and 62% respectively in April versus March, data from the companies showed.

SAIC Motor, China’s largest auto company by sales and partner with Volkswagen and General Motors, reported a 60% fall in its April sales.

Tesla has indicated that it is aiming to increase output at its Shanghai plant to pre-lockdown levels by May 16, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

The disruption to Tesla’s plant has been one of the highest profile consequences of Chia’s measures to control the latest COVID-19 outbreak, its largest to date, with strict controls.

Tesla’s progress, however, comes as a survey showed that Japanese companies are struggling to reopen factories in Shanghai, indicating problems with the municipal government’s push to help key businesses back to work.

  • Reuters, with editing by Neal McGrath


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Neal McGrath

Neal McGrath is a New York-based financial journalist. Neal started his career covering the Asia-Pacific region for the Economist Intelligence Unit, then joined Asian Business magazine. He's subsequently held a variety of editorial positions covering business, economics, finance and sustainability. Neal has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany and the US.


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