SHANGHAI -- In April, when China auto sales rebounded in the wake of the nationwide coronavirus outbreak, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers cautioned that industrywide deliveries this year may slip by more than 15 percent if the pandemic couldn’t be contained.
What the trade group fretted about is materializing as the virus raging outside China now poses genuine threats to the market’s recovery in two ways.
One is in China, as evidenced by what has unfolded in the capital, Beijing.
On June 11, three months after the Chinese government declared victory in containing the epidemic, a new outbreak emerged in the largest wholesale market for farm produce and meat in the city.
Initial genome sequencing data show the virus belongs to a European strain, though how the virus made its way to the market remains unknown, according to Beijing health authorities.
As of Wednesday, 158 cases of new infection were found in Beijing. The virus has also spread to four Chinese provinces by people who have been to the marketplace.
To control the outbreak, Beijing’s municipal government has locked down many local residential neighborhoods, closed schools and restricted gatherings in public spaces.
The city has also suspended public bus and ride-hailing services for outbound passengers.
Such measures are bound to hit the economy, including vehicle sales in Beijing, China’s second-largest city after Shanghai.
While spreading back to China, the coronavirus is still raging in much of the outside world. As a result, overseas demand for China-built vehicles has decelerated.
In May, while sales at automakers in China rebounded for the second month, rising nearly 15 percent to approach 2.2 million, vehicle shipments from China tumbled 37 percent to some 49,000.
In the first five months, vehicle exports contracted 18 percent to roughly 323,000.
Automakers mainly export to countries in the Middle East, South America and North Africa. To date, the pandemic in those regions is far from being contained.
China can probably bring the latest virus infections in Beijing under control, as it did when the outbreak started in the central city of Wuhan early this year.
Yet, faced with an elusive virus and the highly globalized world economy, there is no way for the country to shield its economy and auto industry from the impact of the pandemic.