VW, GM & Toyota Vie for PRC Auto Supremacy

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/22/2014 12:11:00 AM
It's definitely not your grandfather's Buick.
Having discussed the troubles Chinese automakers have selling cars at home and what it means for their export prospects, let us now turn our attention to the real battle for market supremacy in the PRC. In 2009, it surpassed the US as the world's largest market in terms of vehicle sales, so it certainly isn't small fry and represents a burgeoning market with vast possibilities relative to the saturated Western and Japanese ones. Yes, China is horribly polluted already. But no, the automakers seem to be implying that sales can continue to grow with hybrids, never mind that charging in China will probably be powered by ubiquitous coal plants. Ride bikes in Beijing? Are you Communist or something? (Ooh, the delicious irony.)

The opening of the 2014 Beijing Auto Show, famous for its equal-opportunity exploitation of female and male models alike--do you come with the car honey, etc, etc--prompted me to write this post. As in the rest of the world, the major combatants are those we've become accustomed with fighting for global supremacy. In 2013 global sales, Toyota came in first, Volkswagen second, and GM third. In China, though, VW is the largest seller, followed by GM in second and Toyota only in sixth place. Toyota isn't even the largest Japanese seller in China, which is Nissan. Unsurprisingly, all three have big plans for the market that ate America and Europe to boot. Let's go through these in order, then:

1. Volkswagen - the Germans plan to double their dealerships in China. It is also relying on its vast portfolio of renowned brands to serve all income segments:
VW, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based carmaker that owns a dozen automotive brands, is planning to increase its number of dealerships in China to more than 3,600 by 2018, up 50 percent from now, the company said. VW said it will also introduce a range of low-to zero-emission models to meet rising demand for such cars in the country, starting with the e-Up! and e-Golf this year, followed by models such as the Audi A3 E-Tron plug-in hybrid. “We will intensify our customer orientation even further so that we can respond even faster and more flexibly to customers’ wishes -- particularly here in China,” Winterkorn said.

Outselling GM in China helped VW surpass the U.S. automaker as the world’s second-biggest carmaker by sales last year. VW, whose businesses include the Audi and Porsche premium marques and the Skoda mass-market nameplate, has said that it may sell more than 10 million vehicles for the first time in 2014, four years earlier than planned. 
So VW is growing like gangbusters, and its upscale brand Audi is leading the charge:
Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) luxury division Audi plans to sell about half a million cars this year in China, the world's biggest auto market, and raise the number of its Chinese dealers to 500 by 2017. The German automaker hopes its car sales will exceed 500,000 this year, executives told reporters on Friday before the Beijing auto show, which opens on Sunday...

In 2013, Audi sold 488,000 vehicles in China and a total of 492,000 including Hong Kong. Executives said it aimed to take advantage of the increasing popularity of SUVs and rising demand for compact premium cars.

2. General Motors - having been dethroned in China, the Yanks plan a fightback based on investing considerable sums there:
U.S. car giant General Motors Corp (GM) (GM.N) plans to invest $12 billion in China from 2014 to 2017 and build more plants next year as it competes with aggressive rivals in the world's largest auto market. "We are investing wisely and accelerating our vehicle development and manufacturing to keep pace with market demand. In total we are investing $12 billion between 2014 and 2017," Matt Tsien, president of GM China, said at the Auto China show in Beijing.

GM plans to build five more plants in China next year, as part of its efforts to ramp up manufacturing capacity there by 65 percent by 2020, executives said on Sunday. 
3. Toyota - being in sixth position in China but first in the world, Toyota is arguably trying the most to make up the deficit. On tap are a boatload of new models--mostly of the more affordable sort:
Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. said Sunday that it plans to launch more than 15 new models in China by the end of 2017 and also strengthen its production operations in the world's largest auto market. At the 2014 Beijing Motorshow, Toyota Executive Vice President Yasumori Ihara said that the new Corolla and Levin sedan models, to be unveiled shortly, will be available from next year as hybrid models with major hybrid components produced in China.

Toyota hopes to achieve auto sales in China of more than 2 million vehicles per year, but did not give any specific time frame to achieve that target. He noted that Toyota's sales target in China for this year is more than 1.1 million vehicles. The company sold 920,000 vehicles in China in 2013...
In order to make its products more attractive to Chinese consumers, Toyota plans to focus on launching highly desirable new models in the compact vehicle segment that accounts for 60 percent of the Chinese market.
Japanese brands are handicapped by being vents for nationalist sentiment when the PRC leadership needs one to distract from homemade problems. Just today, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe made another offering to venerate those at Yasukuni Shrine--considered by the Chinese as housing war criminals. I'll bet Toyota cringes whenever these things arise since it becomes yet another opportunity to smash up Japanese cars in China...
To deflect criticism about being overrun by imports, all the majors are to various extents using the ploy of manufacturing in China to portray themselves as "domestic" producers. Especially in the case of Toyota, we'll see if it works. Make no mistake: there is much money at stake.