Volkswagen in Talks to Make Electric Cars in China

The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2016

volkswagen-in-talks-to-make-electric-cars-in-china-wsj-safari-today-at-5-23-42-pm

A VW dealership in Louisville, Ky., in August. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

German auto maker plans joint venture with state-run China Anhui Jianghuai Automobile

SHANGHAI— Volkswagen AG is exploring a joint venture to make electric cars in China with a state-run company, part of its aggressive push into electric-vehicle production as the auto maker works to resolve its emissions cheating scandal.

The German car maker signed a memorandum of cooperation with China Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co. for a potential partnership, the companies said in separate statements. Jianghuai said the two will be equal owners of the joint venture, and hope to reach a formal agreement within five months.

“As we aim to be at the forefront of e-mobility, Volkswagen Group is looking forward to explore all options to set up a close and mutually beneficial partnership with JAC,” said Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller. The company is targeting sales of a million electric vehicles a year world-wide by 2025.

Volkswagen, which derives more than a third of its global vehicle sales from China after three decades of operations there, currently has two car-making partners in the country: SAIC Motor Corp. in Shanghai and FAW Group Corp. in the northeast. Under government rules, foreign car makers must tie up with local partners to produce cars.

China limits foreign auto companies to two local partners to make gasoline-powered vehicles. While the limit doesn’t apply to electric cars, most foreign companies choose to produce alternative-energy vehicles with their existing partners. Officials at SAIC and FAW didn’t respond to requests for comment. Analysts say Volkswagen may be able to strike a more favorable deal with Jianghuai than its current partners.

“You may get a better agreement from a company who values your technology more. SAIC and FAW may already have [electric-vehicle] technologies and do not need VW as much as JAC,” said Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based managing director at consultancy Gao Feng Advisory Co.

General Motors Co. plans to launch about 10 alternative-energy cars with its Chinese partners, SAIC and Wuling, by 2020. Nissan Motor Co. and its partner, Dongfeng Motor Corp., launched an all-electric car in China in 2014.

Wednesday’s disclosure follows Volkswagen’s purchase of a 16.6% stake in U.S.-based heavy truck maker Navistar International Corp. this week. Jianghuai, of Hefei in east China’s Anhui province, is a major truck maker in China. It also builds conventional and electric cars. Earlier this year, Jianghuai signed a 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) agreement with NextEV Inc., an electric-car startup backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Sequoia Capital, to develop electric vehicles.

China is going all in on alternative-energy vehicles, as it seeks to cut dependence on oil imports and reduce air pollution. Beijing also regards electric cars as a shortcut for its companies to reach the forefront of an evolving global auto industry.

Chinese governments at all levels last year spent a total of 90 billion yuan ($14 billion) in the sector, including direct cash subsidies for electric-vehicle makers and construction of public charging stations, says UBS Securities.

Sales of electric and hybrid cars and buses quadrupled in 2015 from the previous year to 331,000 vehicles. In the first seven months of this year, sales of such vehicles rose 23% to 207,000 units.

Volkswagen’s current strategy review calls for accelerating development of electric vehicles. Over the next decade, Volkswagen plans to develop around 30 new battery electric-car models, which could account for as much as 25% of the car maker’s total sales.

The company has said it expects to launch the first fully autonomous vehicles by the end of the decade.

This car company ripped off Land Rover. Here’s why it might get away with it.

The Washington Post, July 19, 2016

imrs.php

(LEFT) The 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible is debuted during the
Los Angeles Auto Show in Nov. 2015, in Los Angeles (AP Photo/John Locher).
(RIGHT) Jiangling Motor Co.’s Landwind X7 SUV is displayed at the
16th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in April 2015
(Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg).

The cars are basically indistinguishable unless you hone in on the exact stitching of the seats or the fine arrangement of the headlights. Even then, changes are so minuscule, it’s nearly impossible to realize one of these vehicles costs $41,000, and the other just $21,700.

British luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover and Chinese carmaker Jiangling will go to court this summer in China to settle their dispute over what exactly is fair game in the auto industry. Can Chinese companies continue to get away with “shanzhai” — a Chinese term for prideful counterfeiting — of car designs?

Range Rover’s Evoque and Jiangling’s Landwind X7 are practically the same car to the untrained eye.

It’s a judicial battle that pits Western car companies against the burgeoning Chinese and East Asian market, and one that has captured the attention of economists, auto industry insiders and intellectual property experts.

The Chinese consumer market has grown exponentially since late 1980s economic reform. Some of the largest growth has come from auto companies, both state-owned and foreign joint-ventures. In 2008, when the market was still in its relative infancy, Chinese buyers purchased 9.4 million cars. By 2015, they bought 24.6 million.

And as the industry rapidly expands, Western carmakers, from the United States’ “big three” to German luxury brands to other imports, have rushed to gobble up market share, in the process flooding China and its comparably fledgling car companies with new vehicle models.

The best way Chinese manufacturers could compete was “shanzhai,” reverse engineering foreign products as a way to enter the market without overwhelming research expenditures.

“In the automotive industry, you can copy the look of the the vehicle, but the skills required for the highly complex integrated systems, if you’re a Chinese company, you don’t have engineers with long career histories with that capability,” said Bill Russo, managing director of Shanghai-based Gao Feng Advisory Company.

“So you shorten the life cycle by purchasing or licensing or reverse engineering. And this is not a Chinese-invented cycle.”

Imitation, as the idiom goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s also a great way to make money, something merchants have realized for hundreds of years.

The United States in the 1800s, for example, lacked authors who could stack up against British literary giants, so American publishers reprinted British works without paying heed to copyright laws, said Mark Bartholomew, a professor of law at the University at Buffalo.

Benjamin Franklin, the Benjamin Franklin, even published pirated works. William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens came to America to complain about it. The United States only stiffened its intellectual property laws once its industries, both mechanical and intellectual, matured by the end of the century.

“It boils down to economics,” Bartholomew said. “The Chinese economy doesn’t have this same tradition of the manufacturers like Ford or Hyundai or any of the folks who are making these cars. So if you don’t have these copyright laws, why pay if you can get away with it?”

China does have intellectual property laws, though, and it’s a signatory to international intellectual property agreements. But China’s laws are applied inconsistently, and even the international rules aren’t always enforced in China and elsewhere around the world.

Some countries recognize certain kind of intellectual property, but not others. For example, special door handles on a car: Are those a decorative creative works, or do they have some functionality? Creative works get copyrights. Objects with usefulness get patents. And states, not companies, are the arbiters of what objects get what protection.

It leaves multinational companies rushing to strategically secure their rights all over the world. In large established markets like the United States and Europe, car companies apply for protection right away. But in a developing market such as China — its auto market was until recently considered “developing” — those applications only became priorities over the last decade.

Smaller Chinese companies without strong market presence used past administrative delays as windows of opportunity. If intellectual property protection hadn’t been filed domestically, it was convenient to reverse engineer the product. And if the protection was filed sloppily, companies reverse engineered cars largely without the risk of prosecution.

Even when U.S. auto makers file their paperwork in the right way, China car companies enjoy remarkable home field advantage in their courts. More mature courts in Beijing or Shanghai might have judges more willing to hear out foreign companies, but rural courts or those in factory-heavy districts often show interest to local industry, including counterfeiters.

And so the copycats started coming. Honda fought a Chinese carmaker for 12 years for copying the CR-V. The Chery QQ riffed off the Chevrolet Spark in 2005. Shuanghuan’s CEO SUV model copied BMW’s X5 in 2007. Shuanghuan’s Noble copied Mercedes Benz’s Smartcar in 2009. The Lifan 320 copied the Mini Cooper Countryman in 2012.

Hummers and Porsches and Rolls Royces have been copied. Even Ferraris have been copied, and were shipped to Spain where they were seized by police.

“Anything known to mankind can be faked, even a Ferrari,” said said Frederick Mostert, past president of the International Trademark Association and a research fellow at University of Oxford and Peking University. To prove a point, he bought one and traveled with it and shows pictures of it at speaking engagements.

Ferraris, though, aren’t the counterfeits major car companies worry about. Any buyer looking for a luxury car is in the market to spend luxury car kind of money. That’s especially true in China, where consumers are extremely brand conscious, experts say. Nobody who wants a Land Rover is going to be fooled by a Landwind.

“People who buy [the Landwind] can’t afford the Land Rover,” said Russo, the Geo Feng consultant. “And of course if you’re the company that’s out there, you’re going to be pissed off about it, but nobody is getting confused.

“Get in that Landwind and drive it. I’ve driven many, many cars in China. It’s not the same car.”

As much as the counterfeits are inconveniences, it may be the lawsuits to stop the practice that may hurt Western automakers moreauto industry experts say. The Chinese public doesn’t like to see its industries get bullied. Plus, if one copycat company gets shut down, others pop back up. Western companies end up playing legal whack-a-mole with money they could use to make newer, better cars, said Kenneth D. Crews, a Los Angeles-based attorney and adjunct professor of law at Columbia University.

That kind of strategy actually trains customers to look for newer models and not settle on older ones that are more easily counterfeited. More mature Chinese car companies have grown up and away from copying other models. Once they made enough money to invest in research and original design, they did.

“These companies have grown to become more than just copycats,” Russo said. “They’re advanced and they’re innovative.”

Click here to read this article at washingtonpost.com

When Big Apple Meets Little Orange

Forbes Asia, May 23, 2016

Click here to read the full article at Forbes.com

by Bill Russo, Edward Tse and Alan Chan

Apple CEO Tim Cook with Didi Chuxing President Jean Liu Photo Courtesy of Didi Chuxing
Apple CEO Tim Cook with Didi Chuxing President Jean Liu
Photo Courtesy of Didi Chuxing

On May 13, Apple announced a USD 1 billion investment in China’s leading on-demand mobility (ODM) service, Didi Chuxing (Didi).  Didi’s legal name in Chinese means “little orange”, and an internal announcement made to Didi’s employees literally welcomed the apple to the orange family.

To understand the logic of this investment, it is important to first understand the popularity and explosive growth of such services in China – along with the role that Didi plays inside the expanding ecosystems of its largest investors, Tencent and Alibaba.

Originating from separate taxi-hailing services in 2012, Didi is now a one-stop mobility solutions provider that provides a variety of services including taxi-hailing, private-car hailing, on-demand bus, peer-to-peer ride-sharing, designated driver and test driving.  Didi currently has 14 million registered drivers, completing over 11 million rides per day in over 400 cities across China.  With over 87 percent share of the Chinese private car-hailing market, Didi is far larger than all the other ODM service providers in China, including Uber.

As a global leader in smart connected device technology, Apple has been exploring opportunities to expand the reach of its iOS ecosystem.  It is an “open secret” that Apple is working on its own vehicle program, code-named Project Titan, investing billions in R&D and poaching talent from leading automakers including Tesla, General Motors and Ford.  As a manufacturer of intelligent devices, Apple is a “serial disruptor” of industries ranging from media to telecommunications, and views smart transportation as a key target.

The logic of this collaboration is quite evident: the premier global smart device maker (Apple) has set its sights on disrupting transportation in partnership with the dominant mobility services platform (Didi) in the world’s largest car market with the largest number of mobile internet users.   Through this partnership, Apple and Didi will have the opportunity to shape the connected mobility ecosystem for China as well as the rest of the world.

A Collaboration Model for Connected Mobility Innovation

The traditional owner-centric business model of the car industry is being disrupted by shared ODM services.  As a result, we have witnessed the rapid emergence of a user-centric business model served by mobility services platforms dominated by Uber and Didi.  Apple’s investment in Didi will ensure that they will be able to access China’s dynamic internet and mobility ecosystem.

Apple gains a Chinese partner not only with a strong mobility services brand, but also with a proven market sensing capability and keen understanding of how to address mobility pain points.  Apple can leverage this to launch a car that delivers the perfect connected mobility user experience, and this can be leveraged both inside and outside of China.  Didi will benefit from being affiliated with the world’s premier smart device company, and also gains a major global strategic partner to help penetrate into overseas markets and compete globally with Uber.

While not the primary motivation, Apple’s investment in Didi can also help foster goodwill in China, signaling a willingness on the part of Apple to collaborate with leading Chinese companies.  The importance of maintaining such goodwill was underscored recently when Chinese regulators shut down access to some of Apple’s online media stores, triggering concerns among investors.  In addition, Didi expects to turn a profit next year and eventually list their shares, which could provide Apple with a fast return on their capital investment.

The recent loss of momentum in Apple’s profit growth and share price performance has raised concerns among investors that the Apple may not be able to recover its shine.  The deal with Didi brings hope that Apple can disrupt the auto industry in the world’s largest auto market.

From Connected Mobility to Connected Lifestyle

However, connected mobility is just one segment of the larger “connected lifestyle” opportunity.  The convergence of disruptive technologies such as autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will have the power to transform our everyday lives.  The implications of this go far beyond mobility, which is just one of the spaces where we will be connected through a smart device or platform.

Cars will increasingly become smart, connected, electronic and autonomous – and increasingly accessed through a mobility service.  A logical interpretation of Apple’s strategy is that it views the car as a “third place” after home and office where people are connected to the internet.  Its investment in Didi should be viewed as a strategic opportunity for Apple to capture a larger share of a mobility user’s time online, thereby generating recurring revenue.  By creating a more personalized mobility solution, Apple also hopes that the users of such a mobility service would eventually prefer an Apple hardware platform when they are on wheels.

More than just a taxi-hailing service, Didi is a technology-enabled platform. With advanced algorithms to match supply and demand, surge pricing and real-time route optimization, Didi is efficiently moving people and things by maximizing the utilization rate of vehicles.  More importantly, with big data and machine learning capabilities, Didi’s competitive advantages are constantly evolving and being reinforced.

Like WeChat and Alipay, Didi has emerged as one of the few “Super Apps” holding a vital part of Chinese consumers’ daily connected lifestyle.  These Super Apps typically start by addressing a major pain point and eventually evolve into ecosystems of connected lifestyle services for potentially billions of users.  They possess valuable “big data” on a user’s mobility patterns that are of high commercial value.

“Apple + Didi” vs. “LeEco + Yidao”

In fact, the “Apple + Didi” model is already being experimented by LeEco, a leading Chinese internet media company founded (as LeTV) in 2004.  Last year, LeEco purchased a 70 percent stake in another Chinese car-hailing app Yidao Yongche.  LeEco is also the principal investor in Faraday Future, a U.S.-based electric vehicle startup that is featuring a “subscription model” where users can enjoy the flexibility and convenience of mobility on-demand without having to own the vehicle.  Apple’s recent monthly paid iPhone subscription program indicates that they may already be considering such a business model for other smart devices.

The usage-based model effectively eliminates the problem of up-selling features to individual owners by allowing the businesses that generate revenue from the device to cover the cost for adding the technology.

LeEco’s vision is to cover all aspects of consumer’s connected lifestyle by establishing an extensive business portfolio with mobile internet, e-commerce, sports, internet finance, entertainment and others.  It is rapidly building a vertically-integrated ecosystem comprised of “Content, Devices, Platforms and Applications” offering premium user experience across multiple screens (i.e. mobile, tablet, computer, cinema, TV and cars).

Disrupt or Be Disrupted

Going forward, we expect to see increasing levels of co-opetition, and more cross-border, cross-industry collaborations:

Co-opetition: Google is an early investor in Uber while Baidu is a strategic investor in Uber China.  Alibaba is a major investor in Didi.  Meanwhile, Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba’s affiliate that runs Alipay and other financial services, has partnered with Uber to enable Alipay globally.  Apple’s deal with Didi could potentially challenge both Uber and Google.  In addition, Didi is a member of an “anti-Uber alliance” including Lyft in the U.S., Grab (formerly GrabTaxi) in Southeast Asia, and Ola in India.  With Didi’s aspiration to become a global company, Apple could eventually extend strategic partnerships to other companies in the alliance as well.

Cross-border: China (Beijing) and U.S. (Silicon Valley) will be the leading innovation hubs for connected mobility and beyond.  The Chinese government is keen to promote electric vehicles adoption and digital transformation to improve urban mobility and address environmental issues.  China could leapfrog and become the epicenter for connected mobility innovation on a global scale, with its massive population serving as a fertile ground for technology commercialization, as well as connected lifestyle.  Permutations and combinations of cross-border alliances for connected lifestyle will create tremendous value for Chinese internet users as they trade-up for better products and services.

Cross-industry: The boundary between automotive and internet technology industries will become increasingly blurred.  General Motors, as one of the most forward-looking incumbents, has formed a strategic partnership with Lyft, acquired self-driving start-up Cruise Automation and established a new business division named Maven to experiment with new mobility services. Other automakers are also catching up by piloting ODM services, including Daimler’s Car2Go, Ford’s Go!Drive and Ford Pass, BMW’s DriveNow, and Audi On-Demand.  We have already seen emerging “disruption clusters” in China, including (1) LeEco, Faraday Future, Aston Martin and Yidao Yongche, (2) Future Mobility, Tencent and Foxconn, (3) NextEV, Tencent and JD.com, and (4) Alibaba and SAIC.

A Partnership to Reimagine Mobility

China is at the epicenter of a disruptive wave of automotive innovation and beyond.  The mobility experience is being redefined with innovative usage-based business models.  Incumbents and new players must re-evaluate their connected mobility strategies with a new lens for delivering the perfect connected mobility experience.  Past success in the old automotive game is not a guarantee for future success.  In fact, one would surmise that past legacy could often become a barrier for swift and innovative moves going forward.  It is time for the leading companies from China and Silicon Valley to join forces to re-imagine mobility and the marriage between Apple and Didi could offer the promise of doing just that.

Bill Russo to Chair Future Mobility Panel at JP Morgan Global China Summit

Beijing China, June 14, 2016

The Future of Mobility:  China’s Automotive Industry in the Age of Disruption

IMG_0105

The traditional automotive industry, where technology innovation has primarily been focused on powertrain and safety systems, must now contend with new forms of mobility services that are transforming the manner in which we experience the product.   The particular conditions of urbanization, an ever-expanding middle class population, pollution, and congestion are uniquely challenging in China, which may create opportunities for innovative new mobility solutions for China.

 The conventional hardware-centric, sales-driven, asset-heavy and ownership-based business model with sporadic customer interactions is now competing with a connected, on-demand, and often personalized mobility experiences.  This new form of “connected mobility” is driving new technologies in the world of navigation, analytics, driver safety, driver assistance and information virtualization.

China’s automotive industry is at the forefront of disruption as the driving forces are much more apparent in China than that in the rest of the world:   Urbanization. A Growing Middle Class. Pollution. Grid Lock.

How are these factors shaping the auto market in China?  What solutions are being developed to ease mobility “pain points” in China?  How do you see these solutions impacting and shaping our everyday lives today and in the future?  How will this impact the structure of the industry going forward?

Innovations such as these, originating from both traditional OEMs and new mobility solutions platforms, many of whom are Chinese, could pave the way to a an entirely new business model for China’s auto industry.

Topics for discussion:

  • Defining the disruption in the China context – What are the disruptive trends in the world of mobility?
  • Big picture view of the competitive landscape – What does the new competitive landscape look like and how will it evolve?
  • How should incumbents respond? Disrupting or being disrupted? – What new internal capabilities are required? How to work with local start-ups:  compete or collaborate?
  • China for the world – Will China lead to world’s development and innovation in Connected Mobility?

Ms. Jean Liu, President, Didi Chuxing

Mr. Hubertus Troska, Member of the Board of Management, Daimler AG; Chairman & CEO, Daimler Greater China

Mr. Matt Tsien, President & CEO, General Motors China

Mr. Carsten Isensee, EVP of Finance, Volkswagen China

 

Moderated by:

Mr. Bill Russo, Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company

GM, Ford China Car Sales Decline in February

The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2016

BN-MY572_0307cc_J_20160307160500

Many car makers posted declining sales in China in February. Above, a SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile manufacturing plant in Qingdao, Shandong Province. Photo: European Pressphoto Agency

By Christina Rogers

General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. both posted steep sales declines in China last month on a year-over-year basis, part of a wider slowdown attributed in part to a drop-off around the Lunar New Year holiday.

Sales for both U.S. car makers fell 9% in February, the companies said, following a string of monthly gains driven by new government subsidies introduced late last year to stimulate demand for fuel-efficient cars.

China’s auto market has bounced back from a slump in the summer of 2015 due to the incentives, which can be applied to 70% of cars sold in the country. But the recent sales declines raise a potential red flag, signaling the world’s largest new-car market could be permanently cooling amid the country’s slowing economic growth.

Through the first two months of 2016, GM and Ford sales rose 11% and 18%, respectively, the companies said. Analysts typically look at January and February sales together to account for the disruption caused by the New Year holiday. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers will report official February new-vehicle sales in China for all car makers later this month.

Other auto makers also posted declines in February, including Hyundai Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. Sales for SAIC Corp., China’s largest domestic auto maker, dropped 7%, dented by declines reported by joint-venture partners GM and Volkswagen AG , both market leaders in the country.

China car-sales reached a new high in 2015, rising 7.3% from a year earlier to 24.6 million. But the growth rate was slower than the double-digit gains recorded in 2013 and 2014.

The China auto makers’ association projects passenger-car sales in 2016 will expand 7.8% to 22.76 million. Car makers have rushed to build factories and boost production in China, hoping to tap surging demand for new cars created by a rising middle class and rapid urbanization in what is considered one of the industry’s most profitable markets outside the U.S.

January was a particularly strong month for auto makers in China, with sales up 9.3% from a year earlier, as buyers snapped up new-cars before the holiday. Travel tends to be heavy around the holiday, contributing to a decline in showroom traffic last month.

“It’s like a vacuum effect in February,” said Nigel Griffiths, chief automotive economist for researcher IHS Automotive. March results will be the real test to see whether demand created by the government stimulus is starting to fizzle, Mr. Nigel said.

IHS Automotive has issued a cautious forecast for new-car sales in China this year, with growth likely to benefit only certain auto makers. Demand is also starting to shift to local brands with a number of global auto makers posting weaker sales of late.

Ford has 4% of the market in China and recently completed a $5 billion expansion to build new factories and add models. The Dearborn, Mich., auto maker also plans to spend another $1.8 billion on research and development there. GM, Ford’s crosstown rival and among the largest sellers in China, is also trying to increase market share with new models and an expanded lineup of Cadillac luxury vehicles.

“It is a very densely crowded market,” particularly on factory capacity, that can dent sales and profits across auto makers, said Bill Russo, a managing partner with consultants Gao Feng Advisory.

Government tax incentives are helping to prop up new-car demand in China this year but the subsidies only last through December, analysts say.

Reimagining Mobility in the China Context

Gao Feng Insights Report, February 2016

We are pleased to share with you our paper titled: Reimagining Mobility in the China Context. This article builds on the themes from our previous article titled Digital Disruption in China’s Automotive Industry, and offers a perspective at how the traditional value chain of the automotive industry is being fundamentally transformed by a new wave of “digital disruptors”.

Unlike traditional automotive OEMs and suppliers, these digital disruptors are leveraging mobile internet technology to present new and innovative “Connected Mobility” services to users, and in the process challenging the business model of the automotive industry. The century old hardware-centric business model of individual car ownership and product-based segmentation is transforming into a new form which leverages internet technology to deliver a broader range of services to address mobility needs.  Such changes are happening faster in China than in the rest of the world, where the size and scale of the urban population and the sheer numbers of mobile internet users are much greater than other markets.

In such an environment, China’s Internet giants (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) along with mobility disruptors such as LeEco and NextEV are vying to deliver an increasingly connected, electrified, smart and personalized mobility experience.  Coupled with the Chinese government’s regulatory push on new-energy vehicle adoption and sustainable transportation infrastructure, China has demonstrated strong potential to become the breeding ground for the Connected Mobility revolution.   As a result, Automotive OEM and supplier CEOs must learn to reimagine mobility in the China context in order to secure a strong position in this new competitive landscape.

We welcome your comments and feedback on our briefing paper or in general about our firm. We would be glad to meet you in person to share our data and perspectives in a fuller manner. Please let us know if you are interested in meeting and discussing directly how we can help you to operationalize these insights.

Thought leadership is core to what Gao Feng does. We will, from time to time, share with you our latest thinking on business and management, especially as it relates to China and China’s role in the world.

Best Regards,

Bill Russo
Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company
bill.russo@gaofengadv.com

Edward Tse
Chairman and CEO, Gao Feng Advisory Company
edward.tse@gaofengadv.com

Tel: +86 10 5650 0676 (Beijing); +852 2588 3554 (Hong Kong); +86 21 5117 5853 (Shanghai)

GM’s Cadillac Opens China Factory to Target Luxury Market

The New York Times, January 21, 2016

Photos Photos, Today at 10.26.24 AM

SHANGHAI — General Motors Co. opened a Cadillac factory in China on Thursday to target the country’s growing but crowded luxury car market.

The 8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) factory operated with its main Chinese partner, Shanghai Automotive Industries Corp., will have an annual production capacity of 160,000 vehicles, GM announced.

Cadillac began selling in China in 2004, coming late to a luxury market dominated by BMW, Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen’s Audi.

China is the biggest auto market by number of vehicles sold but last year’s sales growth slowed to 7.3 percent, jolting an industry that looks to this country to drive revenue.

“We do firmly believe that there is a strong potential for luxury (cars) in China,” said Matt Tsien, president of GM China. “Last year, obviously it’s been a challenging market overall, not just for luxury but the overall market has moderated.”

The factory is due to begin producing Cadillac’s CT6 model next week. Cadillac makes two other models, the XTS and ATSL, at factories in Shanghai.

Tsien said China’s luxury vehicle sales could grow to 3.5 million vehicles a year by 2020, which would make it the biggest luxury market.

Cadillac says its sales in China rose 17 percent over the previous year to just under 80,000 vehicles.

“At some point you have to make the decision to be in the premium segment in China because it is going to be the, still, the highest growth opportunity in the world,” said industry analyst Bill Russo of Gaofeng Advisory Co. “It’s, frankly, a segment that offers a lot of margin opportunity in spite of the fact that there is pricing pressure.”

___

AP researcher Fu Ting contributed.

Click here to read the article at NY Times 

China car market braced for abnormal era of flat sales

The Financial Times, July 27, 2015

China car market braced for abnormal era of flat sales - FT.com Mail, Today at 6.03.00 PM

On the eve of China’s largest car show in April, executives and analysts braced themselves for a “new normal”: single-digit sales growth after two fat years. Yet some are beginning to wonder if the world’s largest car market is actually entering an abnormal era of flat or even falling sales.

The catalyst for this pessimism was a sharp fall-off in year-on-year sales — 9.4 per cent higher in March, but 3.4 per cent lower by June than the same month last year, according to wholesale figures compiled by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. It was the industry’s first decline since early 2013.

Coupled with an economy growing at its slowest annual rate in 25 years and the recent crisis in China’s stock markets, the outlook appears bleak for an industry that has been a cash cow for mass market and premium car brands for the past five years.

“It will be quite challenging for carmakers because the market is cooling and the trend will not be reversed anytime soon,” says Teng Bingsheng, a professor at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing.

Analysts at Barclays recently revised their 2015 outlook for passenger car sales growth sharply downward, from 8.5 per cent to 1.7 per cent.

Bernstein Research warned that “we’ll need a stronger word than ‘moderation’ to describe the industry’s challenges”.

Marques as diverse as BMW and Volkswagen have reported falling sales. VW experienced a 3.9 per cent fall in first-half group sales to 1.7m units — the first decline in nine years. BMW also caved in to dealer demands for bigger subsidies — a concession since made by others — while its Chinese joint venture partner issued a profit warning on July 13.

For VW, the pain is exacerbated by having just one mass-market SUV on offer in China at a time when the fast-growing segment accounts for one-third of all passenger car sales.

“That’s clearly been a huge miss on their part,” says Janet Lewis, analyst at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “A lot of first-time buyers are in central and western China where road quality is not as good and there’s more focus on the higher ride that you get with an SUV.”

GM, however, bucked the trend with a 2.6 per cent rise in first-half China sales, helping to send its shares up more than 4 per cent after it reported second-quarter earnings on Thursday.

The US automaker bolstered the view of analysts who say China’s car industry is simply maturing, with growth shifting to smaller cities in the country’s vast interior and increasingly driven by new model launches. The market is merely becoming more competitive with lower profit margins, more in line with those in the US and Europe.

China car market braced for abnormal era of flat sales - FT.com Mail, Today at 6.04.46 PM

“It’s easy to be pessimistic when you start to see some year-on-year developments that are negative,” says Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based consultant who notes that car sales also grew less than 5 per cent in China in 2011 and 2012. “But we went through a softening a few years back and I remember having similar conversations about whether this was the big down cycle. It wasn’t.”

“Supply has caught up to demand,” he adds. “[Companies] are going to be giving away some of those very good margins they have enjoyed for quite a long time.”

That may squeeze shareholder payouts too. VW, for example, has seen an almost eightfold increase in the annual dividend it receives from its China joint ventures over the past five years, from €400m in 2009 to €3bn last year

China car market braced for abnormal era of flat sales - FT.com Mail, Today at 6.06.25 PM

Mr Russo’s less gloomy big picture is also supported by basic demographics, with only 52 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people compared with a global average of 150.

Incomes are improving too. According to GaveKal Dragonomics, a Beijing consultancy, the annual income of some 15m Chinese households will exceed $20,500 this year for the first time. Another 19m households will break through the $13,500 level.

As a result, Macquarie has adjusted its 2015 China car sales forecast only moderately, projecting an increase of 10 per cent from 7 per cent previously, and thinks the overall market will grow from 19.7m units last year to at least 32m by 2020.

But as competition intensifies, the biggest rewards will flow to the most cost-efficient carmakers with the quickest model cycles — just as they do in other markets. “It’s harder to sell something that’s older in China, particularly if people know the next model is coming,” says Ms Lewis.

Chinese brands regain market share
July began as June ended for the likes of BMW and Volkswagen, according to analysts at Bernstein Research, with falling year-on-year sales for the two German groups as well as General Motors and Ford’s China joint ventures.

Unexpectedly, traditional laggards including Mercedes-Benz and Japan’s ‘big three’ automakers have been reclaiming market share.

Chinese brands have also seen their share of total sales — currently 41.5 per cent — start to grow again after four consecutive annual declines.

BAIC Motor, Daimler’s main China joint venture partner, is planning on a 29 per cent increase in sales of its own brand cars this year, to 400,000 units. “Our domestic brand business is growing substantially and has exceeded our expectations,” Xu Heyi, BAIC chairman, said last week.

In one sense, Chinese brands simply endured their “correction” a year early, after experiencing steep year-on-year declines in 2014. Like the Japanese companies, whose sales were affected by spats between Beijing and Tokyo in 2012 and 2013, they are improving from a low base.

Mercedes, meanwhile, is reaping the fruits of a restructuring begun two years ago by Hubertus Troska, the China head of its Daimler parent unit, as it begins to catch up with traditional leaders Audi and BMW. Mr Troska’s changes unified a fragmented sales and marketing structure, bringing together separate channels for imported and domestically produced vehicles.

On Thursday, Daimler reported better than expected second-quarter results with an underlying margin of 10.7 per cent. “Mercedes now looks to be the most profitable of the ‘big three’ German premium brands, something inconceivable a few years ago,” said Bernstein’s Max Warburton in a research note. “Daimler management . . . must feel vindicated and delighted.”

Mercedes is also benefiting from a series of new product launches at a time when refreshing the model line-up is becoming essential in the world’s largest car market.

Macquarie’s Ms Lewis says the German company is in “about the sixth inning” of a strong new product cycle in China, with new GLC SUV and E-class sedans in its pipeline.

“Products tend to have a very short life cycle in China,” adds Mr Russo. “If it didn’t launch in the past 18 months, it’s unlikely to be hot. You’ve got to rake it in while you can.”

Additional reporting by Wan Li

Click here to read this at FT.com

Competing in the China Truck Market

Gao Feng Insights Report, February 2015

We are pleased to share with you a report titled: Competing in the China Truck Market.

While global brands have enjoyed success in China’s passenger vehicle market, the same cannot be said for the commercial vehicle market. This segment has been dominated by local Chinese manufacturers who have relied on sales to local buyers seeking low-priced equipment. However, we anticipate that several factors will be reshaping the market and competitive landscape in the commercial truck sector, creating a “window of opportunity” in China for participation in what has historically been a predominantly local market.

We believe that market conditions and regulatory challenges will create a need within China’s truck industry to form alliances with foreign partners to secure capabilities which are lacking in the commercial vehicle sector in China. China’s truck manufacturers will need to upgrade their technology to meet demanding new regulations, and will need to improve their service and distribution business practices as the market matures. The changing mix of products towards a higher concentration of line-haul HT, along with anticipated policy changes brought about from China’s intention to reform its State-Owned Enterprises, are driving forces which will alter the landscape of competition in the commercial truck sector.

We welcome your comments and feedback on our report or in general about our firm.  We would be glad to meet you in person to share our data and perspectives in a fuller manner.  Please let us know if you are interested in meeting and discussing directly how we can help you to operationalize these insights.

Thought leadership is core to what Gao Feng does.  We will, from time to time, share with you our latest thinking on business and management, especially as it relates to China and China’s role in the world.

In this paper, we offer our “deeply rooted in China” perspective to the analysis of the impact of each of these developments.

Best Regards,

Dr. Edward Tse
CEO, Gao Feng Advisory Company
edward.tse@gaofengadv.com

Bill Russo
Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company
bill.russo@gaofengadv.com

Tel: +86 10 8557 0676 (Beijing); +852 2588 3554 (Hong Kong); +86 21 5117 5853 (Shanghai)

Gao Feng website: www.gaofengadv.com

China’s Car Factory Binge Risks Hurting Automakers’ Margins

Bloomberg Business, February 13, 2015

Automakers have been successful at adding factories. Maybe too successful

When consultant Bill Russo visited Chery Automobile’s headquarters in China’s eastern Anhui province about three years ago, he listened to the company’s plans to expand its factories to make as many as 1 million vehicles a year. But demand didn’t grow as planned. So Chery today has the capacity to make 900,000 vehicles annually—twice the number of cars it sold last year. Sales have slumped by one-third since their peak in 2010.

“Chery is a classic case” of overcapacity, says Russo, a former Chrysler executive who’s now a Shanghai-based managing director at consultant Gao Feng Advisory. “The pressure is that once they receive the permission [from government authorities] to build, they feel like they have to build.” Chery didn’t respond to requests for comment about its sales falling short of planned capacity.

Domestic and foreign-based carmakers are building more factories in China than anywhere else, a construction binge that risks hurting margins in what remains one of the world’s most profitable vehicle markets. By 2017 there will be 140 car production plants in China, vs. 123 at the end of 2014, estimates JSC Automotive Consulting.

According to IHS Automotive forecasts, factories across the mainland in 2015 will be able to build 10.8 million more vehicles than will be sold in Greater China. In North America, however, IHS expects plants to churn out about 3.2 million more cars this year than the factories were intended to produce when they were built.

Overcapacity is only expected to get worse for Chinese carmakers. China will have about 11.4 million vehicles’ worth of idle capacity by 2017, more than double that of European automakers, according to data from JSC and Deloitte Consulting.

Some carmakers already are regretting plans for Chinese plants that will open in the next few years, says Jochen Siebert, Shanghai-based managing director of JSC, who declines to name the companies. “But that decision has been made,” he says. “It’s done; they cannot backtrack.”

Plans for most of the factory space built in China in the past few years were put in motion during the global recession, when China proved to be a godsend while General Motors and Chrysler were being bailed out by the U.S. taxpayer and Europe’s auto sales seemed in free fall. The trouble is, too many carmakers sought the same refuge.

“When you get too many competitors with too much capacity, there’s just not enough growth to sustain everybody,” says Thomas Callarman, Shanghai-based director of the China Europe International Business School’s Centre for Automotive Research. “They’re all smart people, and they look at the right things, but I think they read the tea leaves wrong.”

For now, the China car market remains profitable. Chinese automakers accounted for 7 of the 10 carmakers with the highest profit margins in the world, with BMW’s Chinese partner, Brilliance China Automotive Holdings, topping the ranks at 8.2 percent in the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence. Toyota Motor’s margin was 7.6 percent. Hyundai Motor and Volkswagen’s Audi count China as their largest market, with Subaru maker Fuji Heavy Industries standing out as the only car manufacturer among the 10 most profitable that doesn’t have a factory in China.

-1x-1

Foreign carmakers have been among the most enthusiastic factory builders in China, with Hyundai, Renault, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Jeep among those that have announced plans or are already building in China.

GM will soon sell Buicks made at a plant that opened last month, with plans to open a Cadillac factory later this year. GM has 22 factories on the mainland. Volkswagen, which is vying with Toyota and GM for the global auto sales crown, has 28 plants in China and will open three more within the next few years.

Jochem Heizmann, who heads Volkswagen’s China business, told reporters in November that the automaker has decided to expand its China capacity to more than the previously targeted 4 million autos a year by 2018 because it couldn’t build enough to keep up with demand.

In the next few years, however, increased competition amid slowing growth in car sales will result in lower prices, says Yang Yipeng, a Beijing-based analyst at Goldman Sachs’s Chinese affiliate. As the world’s second-largest economy cools, vehicle sales are forecast to expand this year at just half of 2013’s 8 percent growth, to 21.3 million passenger vehicles. General Motors President Dan Ammann said in January that he expects China’s sales expansion to slow over the next few years after being the main engine for the global industry’s growth for 15 years. Volkswagen in November also said the pace of expansion is becoming “more normal” in China.

The spare capacity may force carmakers to increase sales incentives, hurting profit margins, Barclays says. “This is a heavy asset industry,” says Song Yang, an analyst at Barclays. “When utilization trends down, margins will trend down.” Already, car dealerships in China are asking for financial support and lower sales targets from carmakers after a combination of rapid expansion of sales networks and increased restrictions on vehicle ownership by city governments hurt their profits. BMW agreed last month to pay 5.1 billion yuan ($815 million) to its dealers. Toyota will give $200 million to the dealers of one of its joint-venture partners, FAW Group, while Renault, which is building a plant that opens in China next year, said it will give its distributors more rebates.

The bottom line: By 2017, plants in China will be able to produce 11.4 million more cars than will be sold there, JSC Automotive forecasts.

 

Click here to read this article at www.bloomberg.com