Global Light-Vehicle Sales Reach Record Level in 2010

Emerging markets drive growth, 'signaling the shift of power in the global automotive market,' J.D. Power says.

The auto industry is on the move, literally and figuratively. Global sales are gaining momentum, and growth in the industry is shifting to emerging markets such as China.

According to J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Forecasting, a strong December pushed global light-vehicle sales to 72 million units for full-year 2010, marking the highest worldwide total in history.

The previous record was set in 2007, when global light-vehicle sales reached 70 million units.

If J.D. Power's forecast for 2011 is correct, sales this year will shatter the previous records. The Westlake Village, Calif.-based marketing information services firm projects that sales of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles will jump 6%, to 76.5 million units.

"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."

The Shift Is On

The other major storyline is the gathering strength of emerging auto markets such as China, India and Brazil. In 2010, emerging auto markets accounted for more than half of global light-vehicle sales -- a first.

J.D. Power sees the statistics "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," according to J.D. Power.

Light-vehicle sales in China were up by more than 30% in 2010, according to J.D. Power, reaching 17.2 million units. China eclipsed the United States as the world's largest automotive market in 2009.

"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."

In the United States, sales of light vehicles increased 11%, to 11.6 million units, in 2010.

Light-vehicle sales in Europe, according to J.D. Power, were flat in 2010, at 18.2 million units.

More Growth in Emerging Markets

J.D. Power expects continued growth in emerging auto markets and mixed results in mature markets. The firm expects emerging markets to increase their global share of light-vehicle sales to 53%, while mature markets such as Japan and Europe likely will experiences declines.

The projected global GDP growth rate of 4% -- down from 4.6% in 2010 -- will be "strong enough to support further recovery in auto sales in many markets and continued growth in the emerging markets," according to J.D. Power.

According to J.D. Power, light-vehicle sales will look like this in various parts of the world:

  • United States -- 13 million units, a 12% increase
  • China -- 19 million units, an 11% increase
  • India -- 3.2 million units, a 17% increase
  • Brazil -- 3.7 million units, an 8% increase
  • Russia -- 2 million units, a 6% increase
  • Europe -- 18.1 million units, a 1% decrease
  • Japan -- 4.4 million units, a 9% decrease
"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."
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