Global car sales were supposed to rally this year as manufacturers dragged themselves out of the coronavirus mire, but a combination of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s renewed medical emergency shutdown and key component shortages mean a more than 5% contraction is likely, according to a report from Germany’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR
The report said it’s not all bad news for manufacturers. Underlying demand is still strong, and component shortages mean a lack of new vehicles are reaching buyers and prices are strong, generating what amounts to windfall profits. Second-hand vehicles are also in demand. You can forget radar cruise control or plug-in hybrids; availability is the most important feature.
CAR said global sales in 2022 will fall to 67.6 million from last year’s 71.3 million. Sales were thought to have bottomed out in 2020 at 68.6 million after diving from 79.9 million in 2019 because of the global economic lockdown inspired by fears over the coronavirus pandemic.
“The global car market will have thus fallen below the level of the first Corona year 2020 and will reach its lowest level in 10 years,” said CAR director Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer.
Global sales peaked in 2017 at 84.4 million. In the first 4 months of 2022 car sales fell 25% in Britain, 17% in the U.S., 9% in Germany and 4% in China.
CAR joins LMC Automotive in slashing sales forecasts. Earlier this month LMC said it now expects sales in Western Europe to drop 6% in 2022 to just under 10 million, citing supply chain bottlenecks, the war in Ukraine and lockdowns in China.
CAR predicts a 10.1% fall in all of Europe for 2022 to 16.0 million, including eastern Europe and Russia. Latin America will have the smallest declines because many vehicles sold use fewer semiconductors.
At the start of the year, LMC Automotive was confidently predicting sales would bound ahead by a healthy 8.6%. But the unexpected invasion of Ukraine saw a sharp correction to a barely perceptible gain of 0.4% in 2022 to 10.63 million, and now this minus 6% forecast. In 2019’s pre-covid world Western European sales hit 14.29 million. Western Europe includes all the big markets of Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Italy.
CAR said despite the steep fall in sales, prices will increase because of the scarcity of products, even in volume markets. This will last for at least 2 years, and then the industry will revert to its old ways.
“Then the old car industry will be back. Currently, we have windfall profits. Currently, the car manufacturers can shift the cost of unused capacity to the car buyer,” CAR said.
In about 2 years, CAR said the chip shortage will end and over-capacity will return and the old story of discounts and competition will be back. Investors, even in premium brands, won’t be happy.
CAR said the scale of the fall in global sales is huge.
“Compared to the previous best sales year of 2017 the fall in the global market is 16.8 million. That’s significantly more than the entire European car market. The car manufacturers have much unused production capacity due to a lack of parts. Unused production capacity causes higher costs, which are reflected in the pricing. A quick recovery is hardly in sight,” CAR said.
CAR predicts a slow but steady improvement with 70.8 million sales in 2023, 73.4 million in 2024 and 75.4 million in 2025.
“Globally, this is the worst car market for 10 years,” CAR said.