Hitting reverse: Coronavirus sends China car sales plunging

The monthly drop was the largest ever in China’s automotive industry as the shoppers stayed cautious due to the virus.

China cars
A staff member disinfects a vehicle at a service centre of car-hailing service Didi Chuxing in Beijing, China as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Automotive sales in China plunged 79 percent in February, marking their biggest-ever monthly decline, with demand pummelled by the coronavirus outbreak.

Sales in the world’s biggest car market tumbled to 310,000 vehicles from the same month a year earlier, falling for a 20th straight month, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said.

“China’s auto sales for February returned levels not seen since 2005,” said Chen Shihua, a senior association official.

Sales of new energy vehicles, which include battery-electric cars, contracted for the eighth month in a row.

A CAAM official told Reuters news agency last month that sales are likely to drop by more than 10 percent in the first half of this year. If the outbreak is effectively contained in China before April, the decline could be about 5 percent for the whole year, he added.

In Hubei province where the outbreak began is a large car manufacturing hub responsible for nearly 10 percent of China’s output. Dongfeng Motor Group Co Ltd and its partners Honda Motor, Renault SA and Peugeot SA have all said they are delaying the restart of production.

Tesla’s production and delivery plans in Shanghai, have also been disrupted.

However, after authorities in Wuhan on Wednesday lifted restrictions on a limited number of key industries in the city and allowed some people to return to work, Honda resumed limited output at a car plant in the city.

Nissan Motor has also said it plans to partially resume production in Xiangyang, another city in Hubei, as well as its plant in Zhengzhou, Henan.

Industry-wide auto sales fell 8.2 percent last year, pressured by new emission standards in a shrinking economy and trade tensions with the United States. 

Source: Reuters