China’s new vehicle market declined by 3.1% to 2.128m units in May 2021 from 2.194m in the same month of last year, according to passenger car and commercial vehicle wholesale data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

This was the first decline in over a year which local analysts blamed on continued shortages of semiconductors which affected output by some key vehicle automakers.

Vehicle production in the country fell by almost 7% year on year last month, according to the association.

Underlying demand for vehicles remains strong, however, with the market having already recovered to pre-pandemic levels – driven by strong pent-up demand and low interest rates.

The Chinese economy rebounded by over 18% year-on-year in the first quarter, after shrinking by 6.8% a year earlier, with strong domestic and overseas demand driving a sharp rise in industrial output. The World Bank in April said it expected economic growth to exceed 8% in 2021.

Earlier this month, the Guangdong and Hainan provincial governments were said to have increased new vehicle licence plate quotas and began to offer new subsidies for electric car purchases.

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New vehicle sales surged by almost 37% to 10.875m units in the first five months of 2021, from 7.957m units in the same period of last year, with passenger vehicle sales jumping by over 38% to 8.437m units while commercial vehicle sales were up by almost 32% at 2.438m units.

Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), mainly electric and hybrid-powered vehicles, increased by 160% to 217,000 units in May and by 224% to 950,000 units year-to-date with passenger vehicles accounting for 898,000.

The association also reported vehicle exports increased by 208% to 151,000 units in May and by 107% to 670,000 units year-to-date including 73,000 NEVs.

Manufacturer performance

SAIC Motor reported a 14% drop in group sales to 406,735 units in May while year-to-date volume was still up by over 25% at 1,968,664 units. SAIG-GM-Wuling sales increased by almost 40% to 568,331 units year-to-date, while SAIC-GM sales rose by close to 17% to 496,742 units. SAIC-Volkswagen reported a sales increase of just under 8% to 467,400 units, while SAIC Motor sales were up by close to 31% at 252,355 units.

GAC Group sales rose by almost 7% to 176,800 in May and by 35% to 860,456 the first five months of the year, with GAC-Toyota sales rising by almost 36% to 344,018 units; GAC Honda sales up by 35% at 317,833 units; and GAC Motor sales rising 32% to 126,027 units.

Geely Auto said its global sales, including Lynk & Co-branded vehicles, fell by 12% to 96,167 units in May. This included 10,384 exports, which doubled year-on-year, while domestic sales fell by 19% to 85,783 units. In the first five months of 2021 global sales increased by 26% to 530,074 units.

Great Wall Motor said its sales increased by 6.2% to 86,965 vehicles in May and by over 65% to 517,547 units year-to-date – including 331,595 Haval-branded models.

BYD Auto five-month sales increased by almost 57% to 195,674 units, driven by a 143% surge in NEV sales to 113,213 units.