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Chinese Demand May Worsen as BMW and Toyota Issue Warnings

8 Août 2015 - Automotive News

New vehicles are seen at a parking area of a factory in Wuhan.

China has gone from growth engine to source of concern for carmakers, with BMW and Toyota becoming the latest companies to warn about the world’s biggest auto market slowing down.

BMW said decelerating delivery growth there may force it to lower this year's profitability goals. Falling share prices on China's stockmarket and a flagging economy have had a negative effect on consumer sentiment and in June the new-car market dropped for the first time in more than two years. BMW has cut production in China so far this year by 16,000 cars.

Toyota has also warned that its selling costs in China are rising at a time when the prices consumers are willing to pay are slipping.

Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen, both of which have factories in China, have also expressed caution recently. Ford now anticipates a potential annual decline in industry-wide sales in China for the first time in 17 years. Volkswagen's deliveries there fell in the first six months of this year -- the first decline in a decade.

Automakers are struggling to adjust to what BMW has called the "normalization" of a market that has grown eightfold since 2000, become the world's largest in the process.

In a note issued Tuesday Max Warburton, European and Asian autos analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, wrote: "Things may well get worse from here. The market continues to deteriorate."

The slowdown in China probably contributed to the contraction in BMW's profit margin to 8.4% in the first six months of this year, falling below those of competitors Audi and Mercedes-Benz and short of investor expectations, Warburton said.

But despite concerns about the immediate outlook in China BMW still sees good long-term potential there. "We experience that volatility in all emerging markets," BMW CEO Harald Krueger said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, adding that the country is still a growth market, especially for luxury-car makers.

Toyota on Tuesday posted a quarterly operating profit that fell below analyst estimates. Tetsuya Otake, a Toyota managing officer, told reporters in Tokyo that a deterioration in prices obtained in China had contributed to this, even though its deliveries there increased by 12% in the first seven months of this year. "The sales expenses have gone up and also the sales prices have come down slightly," he said. "This is making our business in China quite difficult. The business environment is getting tougher."

Downward spiral

Toyota said it will begin production of another new assembly line in Tianjin, China, by mid-2018. While that expansion will allow the company to make another 100,000 vehicles per year, this will be mostly offset by ending output on an existing assembly line in China.

While Japanese carmakers have outpaced the industry in general in China so far this year, their lead is under threat by what the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association describes as a "downward spiral" in demand.

Peter Fuss, a partner at consulting company EY's German unit, said "We're unlikely to get double-digit growth again but something that's more realistic for a market of China's size and potential," Fuss said. By that he means growth in the range of 5% to 8%.

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