According to J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Forecasting, global new light-vehicle sales this year are projected to reach 76.5 million units in 2011, which would surpass the record of 72 million light vehicles sold 2010.
If new light-vehicle sales reach their expected levels, this would be 6 percent higher than the 2010 total, which shattered the previous record of 70 million units set in 2007.
“Overall growth in the world economy has been supporting further recovery in auto sales,” said John Humphrey, senior vice president of automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. “We’re seeing signals of stability and increased consumer demand for new vehicles as economic optimism increases.”
Most regions saw sales growth in 2010, including North America, South America and Asia, with China being a key to growth for that continent. Western Europe was the notable exception to the growth pattern, as its sales suffered when the government-sponsored vehicle-scrappage programs expired in 2010.
Also, for the first time in 2010, emerging auto markets accounted for more than one-half of global light-vehicle sales (51%), clearly signaling the shift of power in the global automotive market that has been taking place during the past five years. That momentum in the emerging markets is expected to continue throughout 2011.
A Recap of 2010: U.S. and China Finished Strong, While Europe was Flat
In North America, the U.S. market saw sales of 11.6 million light vehicles in 2010—an 11 percent increase from 2009, when 10.4 million units were sold. Canada’s light-vehicle sales in 2010 finished at 1.6 million units—a 7 percent increase from 2009.
Light-vehicle sales in Europe, while slightly better than anticipated, were flat in 2010 at 18.2 million units. The picture has not been as rosy in the western part of the region, as the market was down 4 percent for the year.
The Asia Pacific region’s mature markets—Japan, Korea and Australia—ended 2010 with mixed results. Japan’s selling rate improved slightly in December, Korea’s sales remained strong, and Australia ended 2010 with the second-highest annual sales total in its history.
China ended 2010 on a high note, with December’s selling rate coming in at 19 million units. China’s light-vehicle sales were up by more than 30 percent from 2009, to 17.2 million passenger cars and light commercial vehicles sold. India also exhibited strong growth of more than 30 percent in 2010 and finished the year at 2.7 million units.
“China continues to be the market to watch in Asia, and the driver for global market growth,” said John Zeng, director of Asian automotive forecasting at J.D. Power Asia Pacific, Shanghai. “China’s automotive market remained robust in 2010, defying all expectations that the market would slow along with the economy. We expect sales to slow somewhat in 2011, but still maintain double-digit growth.”
South America also outperformed much of the world in 2010, as its strong regional economy, projected to be up 6 percent from 2009, continues to drive consumers to dealerships.
Outlook for 2011: Mature Markets Recover, Emerging Markets Continue to Expand
Emerging markets, including China, India and Brazil, are expected to continue to expand on the 51 percent share of total light-vehicle sales captured in 2010. Overall, emerging markets are expected to account for 53 percent of total light-vehicle sales in 2011, a further sign that these are the key markets that will drive the level of growth in the coming years.
Mature markets, on the other hand, are forecasted to see mixed results. The U.S. economy is expected to be stronger, which should lead to higher sales. Western Europe is expected to be flat, while Japan is expected to see its auto market shrink.
Global GDP growth is projected to be at or above 4 percent in 2011, down slightly from 4.6 percent in 2010, but still strong enough to support further recovery in auto sales in many markets and continued growth in the emerging markets.
“From a global standpoint, 2010 was a combination of recovery and strong growth in emerging markets,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. ”Growth in 2011 is not expected to be as pronounced as it was in 2010. However, 2011 appears to be a stable environment with more manageable growth rates balanced across the world, as the recovery in the auto market will continue in many countries.”
As business activity picks up globally in 2011, growth in light commercial vehicles is expected to be up 7 percent and account for 18 percent of global light-vehicle sales. In comparison, sales of passenger vehicles are expected to be up nearly 6 percent.
The outlook for North America in 2011 is positive, with sales forecasted to increase by 11 percent to 15.5 million units—an increase of 1.5 million units from 2010. The U.S. auto market continues to be the driver for growth in the region, with sales expected to reach 13 million units, an increase of 12 percent from 2010.
Canada’s growth—projected at 4 percent in 2011—remains positive, as the market was not affected as deeply as that of the United States during the recession.
With sales projected at 900,000 units, Mexico is expected to see an 8 percent increase in light-vehicle sales from 2010, with its growth dependent on the U.S. recovery and subject to high levels of inflation.
In contrast to the steady recovery taking place in North America, Europe is expected to see a slight decrease in its light-vehicle market in 2011, with sales down to 18.1 million units.
“While the underlying economic drivers are expected to improve, Western Europe will continue to face challenges in 2011,” said Schuster. “Payback from the discontinuation of the scrappage program that extended into 2010 in many markets has not been as significant as expected, and the debt crisis remains a serious risk.”
As a result, light-vehicle sales in Western Europe are expected to be 14.2 million units, down 2 percent from 2010. Conversely, Eastern European sales have rebounded more quickly due mainly to incentives, such as the scrappage program in Russia and low interest rates in Turkey. In 2011, further recovery in Eastern Europe is expected, with sales increasing 4 percent to 3.9 million units.
The auto market in Asia will continue to grow in 2011, albeit not as significantly as in 2010. This region, which experienced growth of more than 25 percent in 2010, should see its market grow by a more sustainable rate of 7 percent in 2011, with volume forecasted at 32.2 million units, which represents approximately 42 percent of global sales.
In China—a country that has seen exceptional growth in its auto market in recent years—sales are expected to exceed 19 million units, an increase of 11 percent compared with 2010. In spite of the expected cooling of the growth rate, China will remain the top global auto market by a significant margin—outselling the U.S. by approximately 6 million units—and the long-term prospects for the market remain strong.
With the higher income levels and increased demand for new sub-compact models, sales in India are being boosted, particularly in the semi-urban and rural markets. Accordingly, sales volume in India in 2011 is projected to be up 17 percent to 3.2 million units.
South America’s economies and auto markets have made a sharp recovery. Economic and auto sector growth is expected to moderate in 2011, with GDP growth forecasted at 4 to 5 percent.
“The major near-term risks to the region include rising inflation and continuing monetary tightening, a sudden reversal in investor confidence, and a possible credit bubble in Brazil, which is the largest auto market in the region with nearly 75 percent of sales,” said Schuster.
Venezuela’s auto market will continue to struggle due to a prolonged recession, high inflation and shortages of imported vehicles. Total light-vehicle sales fell short of 110,000 units in 2010, one-fourth of the volume in 2007.