26 October 2009

Chinese Whispers

Many countries provide car sales figures from government agencies, importer associations or the like. They give out sales data freely in varying degrees of detail that are accurate from year to year. There may be variances in the way they are tabulated from one country to another, but not to any great degree. On the the other hand, some countries do not seem to have any statistics available except what is issued on the payment of sizable fees. Sometimes, one comes across the latter stats by chance and can get an idea of what's going on.

China car sales data is of the second type. The problem is it is hard to find and what you do find is scrambled, just like the Chinese car industry itself. The problem seems to be that China imposed steep import duty on the importation of fully built up cars. To sell cars then, one then needed to make them locally. The government then insisted that this could only be done with a Chinese joint venture partner. I presume this is so they can learn the car making skills, which they can then use to make their own cars too.

Anyway, it works out that an overseas brand of car can be made by more than one joint venture. Then the Chinese partners also can make their own brands too. Most data you find is of production and some counts all production irrespective of the make, while others report it by the brand. It's hard to tell the difference and if you try, it turns out a mess. Much like the industry as a whole.

The upshot is: the largest car market in the world (by units sold at least) does not have any standard accounting of sales or production by brand that you can rely on. What's the big secret? Is it a matter of Chinese whispers?

The bottom line: Wake up China. You can do better than this.

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