AUTO PILOT

Letting the Dragon Drive

China traffiv AFP
Traffic in Shanghai.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Carmakers face a future where vehicles are secondary to digital technology – and China is where it will happen first.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • BMW sells a good quarter of its vehicles in China, and every third VW and Audi customer is Chinese.
    • Digitalization and environmental concerns will drive future sales.
    • German automakers are seeking partners in navigation technology that is vital to autonomous driving.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

These days, when the German automobile industry takes stock, it’s a sobering exercise.

While business is back to healthy growth in the United States and even Europe, the most important market of all – China – has declined for months.

Volkswagen has struggled since April with falling sales, which have also afflicted Audi and BMW since May. If the figures for June show another fall, it would be the first time the German auto industry has faced an overall decline in China on a quarterly basis. Only Mercedes can post significant gains, thanks to new models.

This is a turning point.

In less than 10 years China has grown from a niche automobile market to the biggest in the world. The boom in the Far East has been the impetus, driving car companies from one record balance sheet to the next. BMW sells a good quarter of its vehicles in China, and every third VW and Audi customer is Chinese.

Now unexpected stagnation and decline have replaced turbo-charged sales growth.

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