New-vehicle sales in China are forecast to contract 15 to 25 percent this year despite a rebound in April, which was driven by sharply higher demand for commercial vehicles, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said Monday.
April new-vehicle sales rose 4.4 percent to 2.07 million as the country eased virus-related curbs on travel and commerce, ending 21 consecutive months of declines, according to the industry trade group.
"The sales rebound in April fell short of expectations but ... will increase in the next two months" due to the release of pent-up demand as lockdown measures are further eased, CAAM official Xu Haidong said.
The rebound last month reflected strong demand for commercial vehicles as the Chinese government boosted investment in construction and infrastructure projects such as highways and power grids.
Last month, sales of new commercial vehicles including trucks and buses surged 32 percent to roughly 534,000. Among commercial vehicles, heavy-duty truck deliveries shot up 61 percent to some 191,000.
By contrast, sales of new light vehicles, a broad indicator of consumer and retail demand, remained weak, dipping 2.6 percent to below 1.54 million in the month.
Demand for new electrified vehicles remained weak, slumping 27 percent to about 72,000, after Beijing sharply reduced subsidies on such models in June 2019.
April sales of full electric vehicles fell 29 percent to roughly 51,000 while deliveries of plug-in hybrids dropped 21 percent to around 20,000.
In the first four months, new-vehicle sales in China plunged 31 percent to approximately 5.76 million as disruptions from the viral outbreak idled vehicle production and sales in February and March.
Mainland China has reported 82,918 coronavirus cases and 4,633 deaths, but new infections since April have been fewer versus the thousands confirmed daily in February, allowing authorities to ease lockdown measures and businesses to reopen, aiding auto sales.
Volkswagen and Nissan reported positive China sales in April, while General Motors' China ventures saw double-digit year-on-year growth.
The data supports aids to growing optimism that China's auto business is improving, but experts caution the sector is not out of the woods yet and sales could take a bigger hit if the global health crisis deepens.
With the pandemic still raging globally, external demand for Chinese cars and light trucks will also remain weak, CAAM warned.
China's auto exports are expected to drop by 200,000 units this year, from about a million in 2019, as virus erodes global demand, said Chen Shihua, a CAAM official,
Suspension of auto and auto component production in foreign countries likely will disrupt supply chains in China’s auto industry, CAAM added.
As a result, China’s new-vehicle sales in 2020 are likely to drop 15 percent if the outbreak can be brought under effective control in the second quarter, the industry body predicted.
In 2019, vehicles sales topped 25 million across China.
“If the pandemic outside China cannot be effectively contained and persists in the third quarter or even longer, auto sales in China are likely to slip 25 percent in 2020,” it warned.
Reuters contributed to this report.