Beijing, it's time to release registration data
Yang Jian is managing editor of Automotive News China.
SHANGHAI -- If one asks a Chinese auto executive what he needs most these days -- cutting-edge technology or accurate retail sales data -- he's likely to beg for better data.
Since the beginning of this year, China's Ministry of Public Security has kept an iron grip on vehicle registration data.
Only the Chinese government can get the ministry to release the data, which are vital for China's automotive analysts and corporate planners.
Without the data, no one can be sure how many unsold vehicles are piling up at dealerships across the country. Automakers don't know how many cars to build, and dealers don't know how many cars to order.
That, in turn, can lead to some nasty -- and costly -- price wars as automakers dump excess inventories.
In Western countries, dealer associations and government agencies regularly release monthly retail sales data. But not in China.
Whoever buys a vehicle -- new or used -- in China must register the vehicle at the ministry's local offices.
So where do we get sales data?
The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers issues monthly reports, but those are based on wholesale deliveries. They will tell you how many vehicles are shipped to dealerships but not how many vehicles are sold by those dealerships.
One might logically expect the China Automobile Dealers Association to generate retail sales data. But CADA is not a dealers' group in the strict sense of the word.
As a new organization affiliated with China's Ministry of Commerce, CADA is still too weak to get auto dealers to report retail sales. That means the Ministry of Public Security is the sole owner of vehicle registration data.
Until last year, an information technology company affiliated with the ministry sorted out registration data and sold it for a hefty price. But the company stopped selling the data this year with no warning or explanation.
Without retail registration data, a market researcher can only make guesses based on wholesale vehicle sales data provided by CAAM.
In China, wholesale figures differ significantly from retail sales because automakers dump too many cars on their dealerships.
Even worse, wholesale data released by CAAM every month are not always reliable.
In October, for instance, Toyota, Nissan and Honda said their China sales dropped 44 percent, 41 percent and 54 percent respectively. But CAAM reported that Japanese sales collectively tumbled 59 percent. Since Toyota, Nissan and Honda account for three-fourths of Japanese sales in China, there is obviously a severe discrepancy between those figures.
In 2008 and 2009, Chinese automakers demanded that vehicle registration data be made public.
But the security ministry -- one of Beijing's most powerful bureaucracies, with a mandate to maintain social stability -- rejected the request. The ministry contends that its information technology is not advanced enough for the task.
After maintaining double-digit sales growth for a decade, China's auto market has slowed. That makes it even more important for automakers, suppliers and dealers to plan ahead.
But the absence of retail vehicle sales data makes that difficult.
The auto industry's regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, must get the security ministry to release registration data to the industry.
You can reach Yang Jian at firstname.lastname@example.org.