Global auto sales growth slows

Consumer demand

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All autos Oct12.pngThe impact of sustained high oil prices is becoming very clear in global auto markets. Car sales are facing major headwinds with gasoline and diesel prices at, or near, record levels in many countries. The chart shows combined sales in the 3 major markets – China, US, Europe – to September:

• Overall, sales (red square) are up just 4% versus 2011 (green line)
• China’s sales are slowing, up just 6%
• Without China’s 900k inventory build, total sales would be up only 1%

US sales continue to see best growth, up 15%, driven by replacement buying. Lack of public transport means cars are essential in many parts of the US, and slow sales of new cars since 2008 mean used car prices are relatively strong. The number of cars under 4 years old has dropped to 49m from 68m in 2008, and the average car is now a record 11.1 years old.

European sales are awful, at a near 20-year low, and getting worse. They have now fallen for 12 consecutive months, and are down 8% versus 2011. Sales in the austerity-hit countries are disastrous. There is no other word to describe them:

• Sales in Spain, the world’s 12th largest economy, were down 37% in September
• Sales in Italy, a G7 member, were down 26%

Contagion from the slowdown is now spreading. Sales in France, also in the G7, were down 18%. Even Germany is now weakening fast, with sales down 11%.

Cars are now the single biggest market for the chemicals industry, after the collapse of housing markets. The American Chemistry Council estimates that each new US car is worth $3636 of chemical and plastic sales, making the US market worth $53bn this year. Sales outside the US are similarly valuable.

Today’s slowdown will therefore have a major impact on the global industry as it continues.

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