* Now updated with full analysis & Top 20 brands incl. imports and CV *
* See the Top 73 best-selling local brands and Top 470 All-local models by clicking on the title *
2015 was the year the Chinese car market dipped its toes in the opaque waters of reverse gear. Prompted by a slowing economy and a mid-year stock market rout, new light vehicle sales in China enduring their first monthly declines since December 2008 in June (-3%), July (-7%) and August (-3%). To kick start the market again, the Chinese government halved the purchase tax on vehicles with engine displacements of 1.6L and less. The result was instantaneous and spectacular: the tax cut took effect on October 1, and light vehicle sales were up 13% in October, up 24% in November and up 17% in December to finish the year up 7.3% at a record 21.1 million vehicles. It could have been much worse, as the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) estimates that the stock market rout resulted in lost sales of half a million vehicles, and car purchase limits put in place in seven major cities erased another 2 million potential deliveries.
Chinese SUVs – here the ChangAn CS75 – are almost solely responsible for the Chinese market growth.
If I had to choose one word to describe 2015 in China, it would be SUV. If we had two, they would be Chinese SUV. This segment reached never-seen before heights this year, surging 52% to 6.262.736 units. Chinese brands saw their SUV sales double year-on-year to now hold over half their home market. Multipurpose vehicles (MPV) were up 10% to 2.144.991 but sedans/passenger cars declined 5.3% to 11.775.973 deliveries and microvan sales imploded at -18% to 1.10 million units. Commercial trucks and buses remained in frank negative territory at -9% to 3.45 million. Chinese total vehicle sales including passenger vehicles, trucks and buses hit a record 24.61 million in 2015, up 4.7% from a year earlier. This means an additional 1.1 million units were sold in China in 2015 compared to 2014, the equivalent of a market like Australia. As for the number of vehicle in circulation in the country, it grew by a whopping 12% to 172 million vehicle in 2015 according to China’s Ministry of Public Security. The number of cities with fleets exceeding 1 million vehicles rose to 40, up from 35 a year earlier.
CAAM forecasts another 6% increase in light vehicle sales for 2016 thanks to the tax incentive which will expire on December 31, 2016. We at BSCB table on a 7% light vehicle increase and an overall market including commercial trucks and buses up 4.5% to 25.7 million units.
In the manufacturers ranking, the main event of 2015 is General Motors reclaiming the top spot off Volkswagen Group thanks to sales up 5.2% to 3.612.636 vs. -3.4% and 3.55 million for VW. It is the first time since 2005 that Chinese sales of the VW Group register a year-on-year decline. GM was #1 in China from 2004 to 2012 but relinquished its crown to VW in 2013 and 2014. It owes its title to the success of the low-cost Baojun brand it sells through its joint-venture with SAIC up 173% to 463.533 units along with Buick up 8% to just under 1 million units, compensating for a 10% decline at Chevrolet. On the Volkswagen side, it is not the emissions scandal that handicapped the group this year as the number of vehicles affected is tiny, but an incapacity to predict then adapt to the SUV floodgates opening wider and wider in the country. I detail this situation in my series “Why Volkswagen is losing foot in China“, translated into Chinese here.
Brand-wise, Volkswagen remains by far the most popular despite sales down 5% to 2.76 million. ChangAn reports sales up 11% to 1.54m, however this is inconsistent with PC and CV data placing them at 1.29m. In any case, a very dynamic performance by the Chinese carmaker lifted by its SUV lineup: the CS75 is up 252% on 2014 and the CS35 up 68%. Wuling, suffering from wobbly microvan sales, is down 3% to 1.54m vehicles in third position. Below, five foreigners see their rankings completely reshuffled: Nissan is up 6% to 1.13m (however this may include some Dongfeng sales), Toyota up 9% to 1.12m and Ford up 6% to 1.11m, all overtaking Hyundai down 4% to 1.07m. Honda surges up 32% thanks to the success of its crossover lineup and is millionaire for the very first time at 1.006m sales vs. just 762.300 a year ago. Dongfeng is the 9th millionaire brand in China in 2015 (a record), split roughly half and half between PC and CV – mainly heavy trucks.
In 2013 Great Wall decided to spin off its Haval SUV lineup into a standalone brand, even opting to not display any Great Wall models at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show and every Chinese Auto Show ever since. If this decision seemed heretic at the time, today it rather appears prophetic and very inspired indeed. Haval sales jump 52% year-on-year in 2015 to 662.475, breaking into the Top 10 PC brands in the country (vs. #16 in 2014). On the other hand, Great Wall is down below 200.000 sales (half of them pickup trucks) vs. over 300.000 in 2014. Beijing Auto (589k), JAC (578k), Geely (510k), Foton (490k), BYD (458k), FAW (450k) and Chery (409k) and make it a cool 12 Chinese brands in the 23 best-sellers this year – including commercials.
Audi tops the luxury race as it has been the case for as long as we can remember, however like parent brand Volkswagen its sales are down this year at -1% to 570.889 units. If BMW also marks a pause at just +2% to 463.736 sales including Mini, Mercedes is jumping leaps and bounds at a fantastic +33% to 373.459 deliveries including Smart, thanks partly to the tremendous success of the China-exclusive long wheelbase C-Class L (+123%) and the localisation of the GLA production (42.662 sales). 2016 should be equally euphoric for Mercedes as both the GLC and GLE enter the market.
Over in the models ranking, the Wuling Hongguang wins the title of best-selling nameplate in China for the third consecutive year, and if its 13% decline to 655.531 sales vs. 750.019 a year ago could be a source of worry, it’s actually a pretty impressive hold in a market now full of its clones but most strikingly in the wake of the smashing success of its cousin the Baojun 730. SAIC-Wuling-GM have managed to segment the market perfectly, pulling up both the Hongguang (an all-new SI variant launched this year) and the 730 (slight facelift one year after launch) to follow Chinese consumers’ increasing expectations. The 730 ends 2015 at #5 with an incredible 321.069 sales, including almost 50.000 in December alone.
The Haval H6 tops a booming SUV market, improving 18% to 373.229 sales. That’s the highest sales for an SUV in any single country in the world in 2015, historically beating the Honda CR-V, #1 selling SUV in the U.S. this year with 345.647 sales. Far below, we find the VW Tiguan (+8%) ahead of the JAC Refine S3 (+292%), Changan CS75 (+252%), Changan CS35 (+68%), Haval H2 (+241%), Nissan X-Trail (+45%) and Beijing Auto Huansu S3 (+239%). The Buick Envision is a bullseye success with 162.941 sales for its first full year. But the most impressive start of the year is delivered by none other than another Baojun: the 560. Launched in July, it managed to sell almost 150.000 units in just six month to finish the year at #42. Watch out for the 560 at the very top of the ranking in 2016…
Sedans haven’t been the heroes of 2015, however a few nameplates still manage to deliver outstanding results and the best-selling charts show Volkswagen losing a bit of the grip it has on this segment in China. The VW Lavida drops just 3% to 473.000 units including the Gran Lavida, the Nissan Sylphy is up 11% to land in 4th place with 334.000 sales and the Buick Excelle GT is up 18% thanks to a new generation to #6 and 290.000 units. The VW Sagitar (-7%), Santana (-3%) and Jetta (-7%) are distanced, while the Hyundai Elantra Langdong (+6%) and Toyota Corolla (+48%) go against the grain. The Ford Escort is a success: it lands #16 with 214.400 deliveries for its first full year of sales. The Chinese leaders in this segment are once again the Geely EC7 (+25%) and ChangAn Eado (+18%).
Two years ago (PC): China Full Year 2013: Wuling Hongguang and VW Lavida on top
Two years ago (LCV): China Full Year 2013: Discover the Top 10 best-selling LCVs
Full Year 2015 Top 30 brands (whole market), Top 73 All-local PC brands and Top 470 All-local models vs. Full 2014 figures below.