China's auto industry embraces speedy sales recovery from COVID-19 shock
By Zhang Shixuan

Car sales in China rose for the first time in almost two years last month, leaving many major Chinese and foreign auto makers with hopes of a speedy sales recovery in China, as the world's biggest auto market bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic.

At one car store in Shanghai's suburban Pudong, several cars displayed in the hall are already labeled as sold, with some customers having already chosen their favorite models. A customer named Rong Zhizhen is one of them. She decided to buy a new SUV last week, and was coming to pay after having a try.

"I have driven my old car for around three years. I wanted to buy an SUV this time. I had a test drive a few days ago and came to sign the contract today," said Rong.

Shanghai Yongda Lujie began to see sales recovery in mid-April, and not surprisingly sales in the dealership rose 20 percent from the previous month - to the same level as in April a year ago. Sales during the five-day May Day Holiday were 50 percent of the total sales in March, when much of the country was under coronavirus precautions. A lot of the current uptick in sales is down to easier financing.

"Consumers are much more interested in financial services now. Our packages spread the cost over a longer period, and the monthly payment is less. The five-year package is very popular. Customers need to pay only around 4,000 or 5,000 yuan a month," said Ye Wang, the sales manager from Shanghai Yongda Lujie Auto Sales and Services.

British automaker Jaguar Land Rover has been pleased by the bump in sales. The company said the China market is increasingly important to the company.

"What we see is in April, we are back to the same period as last year, and that recovery is a little unexpected. It's come back really quickly, which is very good and positive. China has always been a very important place for Jaguar Land Rover. We love serving customers in China."

"And through this period, because China has come back so quickly, it has a huge importance for our overall business for Jaguar Land Rover. So we are seeing about half of sales now are coming from China," said Richard Shore, the president of Integrated MKT, Sales & Service, Jaguar Land Rover China.

All this good news is a ray of hope for world automakers, who have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Sino-German joint venture FAW-Volkswagen delivered more than 165,000 vehicles under the Volkswagen, Audi and Jetta brands in April, up 9.9 percent year-on-year.

And China's largest automaker Geely has also had their share of the rebound.

"In April, Geely sold more than 100,000 cars, a year-on-year increase of two percent. And that is also 44 percent higher than sales in March. Volvo China sold some 14,700 cars during April, jumping 21 percent from the same period last year. That set a record for April sales, it's very positive," said Li Shufu, the chairman of Geely Group.

Vehicle sales in China exceeded two million in April, up 4.4 percent from a year earlier, ending 21 months of declines in the world's largest auto market, according to China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. First quarter sales still remain well below where they were a year ago, however, though some experts see signs of the recovery could continue.

"We see government policies that is promoting the rejuvenating the dynamics of the automotive market in China, as well as the consumers still do have a very strong need of either getting a new car or they are replacing their existing car. We don't see a fundamental change in terms of the basic infrastructures of the market. So we do see that the market after the pretty bad first quarter, will see a pretty nice bound back in the next three quarters," said Ron Zheng, the senior partner of Roland Berger.

Zheng said that SUVs and sedans are the most popular vehicles among Chinese consumers. In April, sales of passenger cars accounted for about 74 percent of total vehicle sales. Commercial vehicles took up the remaining share, with 534,000 units sold last month.