SHANGHAI -- Chinese brands continue to lose market share at home, and the biggest domestic carmaker -- Geely Automobile Holdings -- isn't immune, with sales tumbling more than 20 percent for the fourth straight month in July.
Domestic automakers are reeling from a combination of bad luck and factors partly of their own making.
Chinese brands are struggling especially because their target customers have been hit harder than those of global brands by the slowing economy.
China’s economic growth slowed to 6.2 percent in the second quarter, down from 6.6 percent for all of 2018.
Domestic brands mainly produce compact and subcompact sedans and crossovers for low-income consumers who typically live in rural and inland China.
And they market the vehicles at prices ranging from 50,000 yuan ($7,100) to 100,000 yuan, which are affordable options.
But facing dim economic prospects, low-income consumers are more likely than affluent households to cut discretionary spending on big-ticket items such as cars.
That’s the harsh reality Geely has run into.
Geely has made substantial progress in expanding its product portfolio. This year it launched sales of three new products – the brand’s first multipurpose vehicle, a compact crossover that shares a platform with the Volvo XC40 and a compact car under the newly created electric vehicle brand, Geometry.
But none of the new models has generated meaningful volume. Geely sales fell 24 percent to 91,375 in July.
Most domestic Chinese carmakers, spurred by generous government subsidies, have invested heavily to launch electrified vehicles in the past few years.
It has turned out to be an ill-conceived strategy.
On June 25, Beijing finished slashing subsidies by more than 50 percent for EVs and plug-in hybrids.
The move instantly chilled demand for those vehicles.
In July, sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids at BYD Co., China’s largest electrified vehicle maker, dropped for the first time this year, declining 12 percent from a year earlier.
Another major domestic EV maker, Jianghuai Automobile Co., had its EV sales plunge 66 percent last month.
The sobering truth is that consumers have little interest in electrified vehicles without sufficient government subsidies.
In the first half, aggregate light-vehicle sales at Chinese brands tumbled 22 percent to below 4 million. As a result, their domestic market share dipped 3.9 percentage points from the year-earlier period to below 40 percent.
But that is not the end of their woes.
Economic growth will remain subdued, dampening new-vehicle demand, as long as China’s trade dispute with the United States plays out.
And with Beijing set to phase out remaining subsidies for EVs and plug-in hybrids by year end, Chinese brands will find it even tougher to navigate at home.