Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Consistency Check on Chinese Vehicle Growth

I wrote the other day about the extraordinary pace of growth in the Chinese private vehicle fleet.  If true, and assuming it continues, this seems to me an incredibly important trend as it suggests that the growth in Chinese oil consumption will accelerate in the future.

However, like a lot of people, I am pretty uncertain about the accuracy of Chinese statistics given that the political system there seems to have a lot of incentives for local officials to distort the numbers, and lacks the free speech rights that tends to correct these kinds of distortions over time.  However, the question is, are any such inaccuracies material?  For my purposes, we can live with numbers that are off by 10% or 20%, as long as the growth rates are about right.  But obviously if they were off by an order of magnitude, or the growth rates are wildly wrong, then we will draw seriously inaccurate conclusions from them.

One way to check the accuracy is to look for internal consistency of different kinds of numbers.  I discovered that the Wikipedia entry on the Automobile Industry in China has statistics of the number of cars produced in China, as follows:

Automobile production by year
Production (in million units)

In addition, the text of the Wiki entry provides an estimate of 13m cars for 2009. Just to show what these numbers look like on a graph:

Clearly, they also show a very rapid growth. China has apparently built a US sized car industry in about a decade.

We can compare these numbers to the changes in the size of the Chinese car fleet. Obviously, we wouldn't expect a perfect match - some cars from the fleet are scrapped every year, some cars produced in China may be exported rather than swelling the size of the Chinese fleet, while other cars produced elsewhere could be imported. Still, we would expect at least a loose relationship, and that's what we find:

I take this as confirmation that the fleet growth numbers are, if possibly imperfect, at least in the right ballpark.


TJ said...

the fleet has grown substantially but oil consumption last year did not really grow as fast as i would have expected with the increase in fleet size..

nice research

Stuart Staniford said...

On a related theme, there is an interesting discussion at the NYT on whether China can become a global leader in science and technology.

Stuart Staniford said...

Also, an interesting Bloomberg story from a few days back:

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Nissan Motor Co.’s factory in central China is making cars almost 24 hours a day, yet Pan Xiaowei still waited three months for her new Tiida compact to arrive at the dealership.

“It wasn’t like this a couple of years ago,” said Pan, 34, whose husband runs a property development company in Shandong province. “We used to buy and get a car straight away, and now you have to pre-order and wait.”

China overtook the U.S. last year as the world’s largest automobile market with sales surging 46 percent to 13.6 million, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Nissan, Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. are running their Chinese factories at full capacity, with overtime and weekend shifts, and still can’t deliver enough cars.

“Based on our current growth rate and planning assumptions, the capacity of our two facilities will not be able to accommodate the expected future demand for our products,” Nigel Harris, general manager of Ford’s venture with Chongqing Changan Automobile Co., said in an e-mail.

About 99.7 percent of cars made in China through November last year were sold, the association said. Foreign automakers are expanding assembly lines as buyers in secondary cities beyond Beijing and Shanghai benefit from government subsidies of at least 5 billion yuan ($732.5 million), a sales tax cut and 8.9 percent economic growth.

Rural Consumption

Car sales have been fueled by demand in rural areas where the growth rate exceeded that of urban regions last year for the first time, Trade Minister Chen Deming said in a Jan. 13 interview with state broadcaster CCTV.

“Spending power in the medium and small cities is rising, and demand there has surpassed those in bigger cities,” said Wei Tuo, a Henan province dealer for Nissan’s joint venture with Wuhan-based Dongfeng Motor Group Co. “Cars are no longer considered a luxury item but a standard consumer product.”

Joel said...

I agree that growth in cars is great and that it should lead to accelerating oil consumption later on. But a big difference between American cities and the new megapolises arising in china is the density of the urban pattern. The new Chinese cities are characterized by high-rises and suburbanization is not common (at least not in the American way). Public transport has been inadequate in many big cities but that is changing fast. Last year I think Shanghai were building on 100 subway stations at the same time. So even if car has been the most convenient way of travelling with in china for a while I suspect they will end up in a situation more like other developed Asian cities like Singapore or Tokyo where mileage travel by car is higher than in China today but much lower compare to the west, mostly due to urban density and public transport.

This would maybe not hinder the Chinese people to buy cars and if the big rural population start to afford cars were are in a complete different situation.

Morgan Downey said...

During the period 2004-2008 the Chinese sporadically imported significant amounts of oil for diesel electric generators.

This may create challenges when trying to extrapolate an accurate trend or undertaking analysis of the correlation between vehicles and oil consumption.