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Race is on to luxury car market


Report: Global icons localize to be competitive in fierce market

Following a nearly five-fold increase in sales over the last decade, automakers are further ramping up efforts in the China market as premium brands continue to rise, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The multinational professional business advisory forecasts the Chinese luxury car market will have annual sales surpassing 3 million units by 2020.

In the last decade, the overall market has expanded from 4.3 million to 19.9 million vehicles purchased, a trend that continued despite the global downturn and other automotive markets in steep decline.

And the luxury segment even grew as the Chinese auto market expanded only marginally in 2011. That year, it had a startling 54.5 percent rise.

By the end of 2013, the segment was still enjoying double-digit growth to reach sales of 1.4 million units, second only to the United States. China is expected to surpass the US in luxury sales by 2016, said PwC.

The proportion of affluent consumers in China is growing rapidly, both in volume and age range. Younger first-time owners have increasing buying power that helps fuel the luxury segment, the company's research concluded.

"Foreign luxury brands seem to appeal to young buyers as they perceive them as safer, more technologically advanced and better quality," said Wilson Liu, head of PwC's China Automotive team.

"On the other hand, a trend toward vehicle downsizing amid more stringent emission standards is also reflected in the luxury segment," said Liu. "Entry-level models are increasingly available and appealing to younger, first-time buyers."

Luxury vehicles have a projected compound annual growth rate of 11.5 percent from 2013 to 2020, almost double that for standard, non-premium light vehicles, according the report.

It forecasts that the penetration rate for luxury vehicles will even surpass the 10 percent share seen in today's mature markets such as the US.

Surging share

In the first five months, 9.84 million vehicles were sold in China, nearly 9 percent more than last year. But almost all luxury brands reported double-digit growth.

Mercedes-Benz surged 40 percent from a year earlier to more than 107,000 deliveries from January to May.

Its major rivals BMW and Audi reported year-on-year growth of 25 percent and 19 percent respectively during the same period. Along with luxury SUVs, small luxury models are also increasingly popular due in part to increasingly stringent emission standards, said PwC.

Growing concerns over traffic congestion and auto-related pollution have made small, entry-level models even more popular as price-effective entry points into luxury ownership for younger first-time buyers, said PwC.

Like luxury SUVs, sales of small luxury cars are forecast to grow substantially, from the current 110,000 to an anticipated 680,000 by 2020.

"As the luxury segment proliferates, global premium brands are scrambling to localize production," said Rick Hanna, head of PwC's Global Automotive team. "It is expected that almost all major luxury brands will have domestic assembly by 2016."

Localization has cost advantages including local sourcing, R&D and a streamlined supply chain within the country.

Localization can also offer long-term benefits in government and legislative incentives and minimizing additional import duties, said the PwC report.

Establishing a local operation not only shows commitment to the market, but also provides the ability to remain agile in a dynamic market where consumer preferences can shift quickly.

The latest example is Jaguar Land Rover, which established a local joint venture that will be operational in the fourth quarter. Its new factory built at an investment of 10.9 billion yuan, has an annual capacity of 130,000 vehicles and 130,000 engines.

The joint venture in Changshu, Jiangsu province with Chinese automaker Chery Automobile will make Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles as well as own-branded vehicles.

By the end of this year, Japanese premium brand Infiniti will begin production at its first China plant in XiangyangHubei province. The company will first manufacture the long-wheelbase Q50 sedan and QX50 SUV.



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