January was not a great month for auto sales in the 3 major markets of the USA, EU and China. These amount to over 50% of global auto sales, and are a key indicator of underlying consumer demand.
As the chart shows, sales were just 3m (red square), down from 3.2m (green line) in 2011:
• China's volumes were down 17% to 1.2m from 1.4m
• EU fell from 1.04m to 0.97k
• Only the USA saw a rise to 0.9m from 0.8m
Of course, China's sales were much slower than last year due to the Lunar New Year taking place earlier than in 2011, and combining with the Spring Festival. But even so, China's auto industry is only forecasting 8% growth this year - in line with the 6% seen in 2011. This is well down on the 33% and 49% increases seen during the stimulus period.
It is also difficult to be optimistic about EU sales, with auto companies forecasting sales declines of 6% or more this year. Whilst sales growth forecasts in the USA will be tested by today's high gasoline prices.