Autos are the largest single market for chemical and polymer sales. And the USA, China and EU are the 3 largest markets, accounting for 2/3rds of global sales last year.
Disappointingly, as the above chart shows, their sales were up just 1% overall in Q1 versus 2011 at 10.6m. Even this gain was only due to March being the strongest month on record with 4.25m sales.
Each market also showed quite different trends:
• US sales were the most encouraging, up 13% at 3.5m
• China’s sales were disappointing, down 1% at 3.8m
• EU sales were awful. They were down 8% at 3.3m, with March sales the worst since 1998
Optimists can point to recent strength in the USA, and the need to replace older vehicles as a driver for future demand. They can also hope that China’s demand may resume its growth later this year. In Europe, they can take comfort from Germany’s continuing strength, with sales up 1%.
Pessimists can instead argue that US strength in Q1 was supported by the return of Japanese cars to the market after the supply problems last year. They can also argue that China’s growth curve has now been flat for some months. Whilst in Europe they can speculate that China’s slowdown will soon impact Germany’s economy, as its exports slow.
Reasonable people can see merit in both sides of the argument. We can all hope that the optimists are right. But we may also worry that the pessimists have good arguments too.
The auto market is thus another example of the general uncertainty that continues to hang over the global economy.