The Brazilian auto market – cars and light and heavy commercials – will keep growing in 2012 but at a slower pace than in 2011. That’s according to the forecasts of a couple of dozen top executives at automakers and importers polled during the recent Autodata ’s Perspectives 2012 congress in São Paulo.

Brazil is now the world’s fourth largest auto market and the sixth largest vehicle producer. For 2011, registrations should reach 3.7m units, up 5% over 2010, while GDP grows some 3.5%.

For 2012, most executives and analysts forecast a 3% rise in sales, on par with GDP, rathert than a few percent above, as has been the case for the last eight years. A Gfk poll found 16% of Brazilians plan to buy a new car in the the next six months. 

Brazil is still far away from market saturation. This year 19 new vehicles for every 1,000 people will be be purchased compared to 60/1,000 in the US in the boom years.

It’s up to the government to fine tune demand. Although everybody agrees that interest rates are bound to drop, the amoun of available credit is under close scrutiny. Yet 60-month, no-deposit financing is again available due to high 40-day new vehicle inventories.

Margins will be tight in 2012 and in the coming years. But that has not stopped Anfavea members to announce investments of $22bn through 2015.

This amount does not include current importers like Chery (which has decided to bring forward its local plant inauguration by six months), JAC and Suzuki (both with local capital), nor those whose plants are rumoured but yet to be announced officially: BMW and Land Rover. There are also rumours about Great Wall.

Among the positive perspectives highlighted at the congress, two stood out.

In 2020, Brazil may be the world’s fifth economy, passing Germany, and trailing only the US, China, Japan and India.

Letícia Costa, a PRADA consultant, said: “For the first time in my professional career I see the Brazilian economy, despite growing less, more predictable than the global outlook.” Yet she expressed concerns about inflation.