Once the world’s hottest automotive market, China is now the world’s hottest disappointing market as new vehicle sales fell 8.2% in 2019, with Ford China getting hit hard, posting a 26.1% fall and General Motors declining 15%.
The country’s new vehicle sales have declined for 18 straight months, including the narrow loss in December of just 0.1%, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said.
Ford saw its December sales fall 14.7% during the final month of the year, as it continues to grapple with updating its vehicle line-up. The automaker’s been struggling in China for the past three years, and 2019 is an improvement compared with the 37% decline the company posted in 2018. It saw sales slide 6% in 2017, the last year the country saw a sales increase.
Anning Chen, president and chief executive of Ford Greater China, described 2019 as “challenging,” however, he pointed to strong gains by its Lincoln luxury brand and narrowing losses by its other brands in the final six months of 2019 as promising signs for 2020.
“The pressure from the external environment and downward trend of the industry volume will continue in 2020, and we will put more efforts into strengthening our product lineup with more customer-centric products and customer experiences to mitigate the external pressure and improve dealers’ profitability,” he said in a statement.
The company plans to keep its product revitalization plans on track with 30 new vehicles coming during the next three years. It’s Ford China 2.0 plan also calls for the localizing of management teams by hiring more Chinese staff and aimed to improve relationships with joint venture partners.
In the meantime, GM reported its sales in its largest market last week, reporting a 15% slide year-over-year. However, much like Ford and Lincoln, GM’s luxury brand, Cadillac fared well during 2019. Cadillac sales reached an all-time high of 213,717 units in 2019, posting a year-on-year increase of 3.9%.
GM plans to keep expanding its portfolio in China after a steady launch cadence across brands in 2019 that saw more than 20 new and refreshed models rolled out. This year’s debuts will focus on luxury vehicles as well as midsize/large SUVs and MPVs, which have become the segments with the strongest increases in customer demand.
“During the downturn, we are focused on bolstering our product lineup and improving cost efficiency to position our company for strong performance in China over the long term,” said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and president of GM China. “We expect the market downturn to continue in 2020, and anticipate ongoing headwinds in our China business.”
GM is on track to introduce at least 10 NEVs in China between 2016 and 2020, helping lead the industry toward an all-electric future. Through the end of 2019, GM’s NEV customers in China surpassed 600 million electric kilometers driven, signaling increasing customer usage and acceptance.
The aggressive introduction plans come despite predictions that sales in China will be off at least another 2% in 2020. Additionally, NEV sales aren’t expected to grow at all as no new subsidies aren’t coming down from the central government anytime soon. Officials are now warning that sales in China are in a “low-growth” phase.
“We have moved away from the high-speed development stage. We have to accept the reality of low-speed development,” Shi Jianhua, a senior official at CAAM, told a news briefing. “We had high-speed growth for a consecutive 28 years, which was really not bad, so I hope everyone can calmly look at the market.”