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Tougher competition to emerge after market recovers from slump

By Li Fusheng | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-04 08:32
Attendees get information about a MINI shown at the Shanghai auto show in April. [Photo by Li Fusheng / China Daily]

Sales in China's car market has fallen for more than 15 months in a row, and many commentators have a pessimistic future outlook. Consulting firm McKinsey, however, has faith in a recovery saying there is still much room for a rejuvenation in the market with the emergence of much fiercer competition.

"Robust demand for private cars is set to drive the market forward, and there are strong indications that the downturn will be short-lived," said McKinsey in its China Auto Insights report released late October, based on a poll of more than 2,500 respondents in 20 major Chinese cities.

The results show that 62 percent of respondents would buy a car to meet daily travel needs, followed by 48 percent that would buy a car for the sense of safety it provides.

Passion for driving ranked third, with 41 percent citing a love for being behind the wheel as a key reason they would buy a car.

The survey also found consumers have a strong desire to buy a better car, with most respondents aiming for cars with a price tag ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 yuan ($28,425 to $42,637), which would include some models from Lexus, Cadillac and even BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Nearly 60 percent polled said they would trade up their vehicles, with the majority of them wanting cars more expensive than their current ones.

Another index is China's low car ownership per thousand people. Although the country has been the world's largest car market since 2009, there is only about 173 people out of every 1,000 owning a car.

This is much lower than other developing markets, such as Malaysia, where there are 433 cars per 1,000 people, not to mention leading markets.

In the United States, 837 out of every 1,000 are car owners and in Australia, the number is 747 per 1,000.

That does not mean that all brands have the same opportunities. McKinsey said that Chinese consumers are developing deeper loyalty to brands, especially in the Chinese-branded segment, where the leading brands take a nearly 80 percent market share.

In 2017, only 12 percent of respondents said they would purchase the same brand again, whereas this proportion rose to 31 percent this year.

The survey also found that Chinese consumers tend to have only two to three brands in mind when they set out to buy a car, and nearly 60 percent of final purchases are sourced from brands in this group.

So far, overseas brands have gained the upper hand. More than 70 percent of respondents favored German brands, followed by Japanese and US brands. Only 3 percent selected a Chinese brand.

McKinsey warned that some weaker brands will be edged out of the market as the current slowdown and fierce competition push consolidation. As customer demographics become younger, many car brands have been introducing digital and tech extras to attract them, but the McKinsey report found offline channels including visits to dealerships continue to play an irreplaceable role in decision-making.

"Integrating both online and offline touch points to create an omni-channel experience that meets the changing needs of consumers, and introduces innovative service models, is essential," said McKinsey in its report.

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