LUCA CIFERRI

Why even a weak China is good news for European automakers

Luca Ciferri is Editor of Automotive News Europe.Luca Ciferri is Editor of Automotive News Europe.
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The Shanghai auto show proved once again that China is the promised land for automakers, particularly Europeans bracing for a sixth straight year of declining car sales in their home region.

None of the European executives I spoke with at the show was too concerned that China's car sales are expected to grow just 5 percent this year, which would result in a record volume topping the 13.3 million passenger cars sold last year.

Sure, it's not the double-digit growth of years past but compared with Europe, where first quarter sales fell 10 percent, it's an absolute boom.

As a result, automakers are adding new products, entering new segments, and increasing their dealer networks to keep pace.

Here are some facts and figures that put into perspective the importance of China for European automakers.

• Volkswagen brand plans to increase sales in China, it's largest single market, to 3 million this year from 2.8 million last year. In Europe, VW brand's sales were 1.6 million last year and are expected to fall in 2013.

• Struggling PSA/Peugeot Citroen, which is losing sales and burning through cash at an alarming pace, just raised its sales target in China by 11 percent to 557,000 because of higher-than-expected demand in the first quarter for models such as the Peugeot 3008 crossover and Citroen C4L sedan.

• Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz sold a combined 930,000 vehicles in China last year. By comparison, in 2012 they sold a combined 716,000 vehicles units in the United States, which, for now, remains the world's largest premium auto market.

• The number of millionaires in China grew 6 percent to more than 1 million last year. That means that last year China added 60,000 millionaires, identified as individuals worth more than 10 million yuan (roughly 1.25 million euros) in personal assets, according to the Hurun wealth report.

You can count on smaller European automakers such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche to benefit as all those new millionaires look for ways to celebrate their success.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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