The Chinese import automobile market is experiencing significant changes. According to the China Passenger Car Association, the country saw a continued downturn in import car sales for the past six years with signs of improvement in 2023. Notably, the demand for high-end vehicles within the domestic market remained resilient. Though the luxury car sector thrives domestically, the status of standard imported passenger vehicles has been giving signals.
Aside from the strong luxury car market, the volume of imports has sustained an incremental decline since 2017. Data shows in 2017 China imported cars totaled 1.24 million units and declined continuously with only 940,000 units sold in 2021 and 880,000 in 2022. However, even with a slow start this year, spurred by luxury sales, the first 11 months of this year saw 820,000 units sold, a 7% year-on-year increase. Until this year, the annual rate of decrease since 2017 has been around 10% per year on average. Imports from Germany, Japan, and the United States saw the most decline in 2023 with Japan leading the way with the most significant decrease in sales totals. Remarkably, imports from Korea surged by an exceptional 264% during the same period.
As for the luxury car sales, the top five import brands from January to November 2023 were BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Porsche, and Audi. BMW and Mercedes-Benz showed impressive growth at 23% and 14% respectively, while Audi, achieved an even better 37% expansion. However, both Lexus and Porsche saw declines in 2023.
Lexus, historically one of Japan’s top luxury brands had strong sales in previous years, however, in 2023 it trended down 6% year on year. An industry insider stated, “Although Lexus is also transitioning to electrification, it has not been widely recognized by the market.” Observers would surmise this trend is due to strong and growing domestic manufacturers taking market share.
In general, according to the China Passenger Car Association, the import car market is slightly cooler than its domestic rivals. As more China car manufacturers ramp up their production, this trend is likely to continue.