Global auto sales growth stalls as BabyBoomers age

Global autos Jan12.pngCars are now the largest single market for chemical sales, as housing markets have slowed globally. Each new US car is worth $3297, for example, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), making the US market worth $42bn in 2011.

2011 auto sales were ~59m, up 4% from 2010. The West (EU, USA, Japan) still dominates, with 50% of demand. Developing countries showed rapid growth until recently, but the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are still only 35%.

The chart above shows performance in the 3 largest markets since 2007:

China (blue column) remained in top spot at 14m. But its growth rate collapsed with the ending of stimulus spending – from 49% in 2009, and 30% in 2010, to just 5% in 2011. Q4 growth was only 1%, as the last subsidies were removed in September
• The EU (red) was 2nd at 13m, continuing its recent decline. Sales have now fallen for 4 successive years. Without Germany, whose sales rose 9% to 3.1m in 2011, the picture would be even worse
• The USA (green) remained 3rd with sales up 11% to 13m, hopefully having now bottomed, as the blog noted recently. But they are a long way from the 15 – 17m range enjoyed during the 1995-2007 boom years

Japan was the next largest market at 4.2m, hit by 2011′s tsunami disaster. The other main markets are small by comparison – Brazil at 2.7m, Russia at 2.6m, India at 2m

Overall, growth in the 3 major markets weakened significantly last year.

2009 had equalled 2008 performance, as China’s massive stimulus balanced the US/EU slowdown. Then co-ordinated G20 stimulus led to 10% growth in 2010. But last year saw growth decline to 4%. Q4 growth was only 2%, versus 10% in Q4 2010.

The blog does not rule out a panic reaction by policymakers, as it becomes more apparent that the world has re-entered recession. Co-ordinated stimulus would work for a period, as it did in 2009/10. But the debt overhang afterwards would be even worse than today’s.

In the absence of further stimulus, it is hard to see much growth in 2012, particularly with oil prices at today’s record level:

• Germany’s economy is slowing fast, so EU volumes are likely to continue their decline
China’s growth will remain slow, as its primary focus is now on controlling food price inflation, rather than boosting demand
• The USA will probably also see only slow growth, even with further stimulus ahead of the presidential election

It is not all bad news, however, as moves to reduce auto weight will boost chemical and polymer demand. The ACC estimates, for example, that 378lbs (172kg) of plastics and composites were used in the average light vehicle in 2010, up from 286lbs in 2000 and just 20lbs in 1960.

But clearly the days of steady SuperCycle growth are now behind us, as the Western BabyBoomers enter the New Old 55+ generation. With 29% of the Western population already in this cohort, their mobility needs now represent a new and potentially very attractive market opportunity.

We highlight these in more detail in Chapter 8 of ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal’, to be published next week.

About Paul Hodges

Paul Hodges is Chairman of International eChem, trusted commercial advisers to the global chemical industry. The aim of this blog is to share ideas about the influences that may shape the chemical industry over the next 12 – 18 months. It will try to look behind today’s headlines, to understand what may happen next in important issues such oil prices, economic growth and the environment. We may also have some fun, investigating a few of the more offbeat events that take place from time to time. Please do join me and share your thoughts. Between us, we will hopefully develop useful insights into the key factors that will drive the industry's future performance.

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