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Mainland China Truck Market Continues to Deteriorate

01 December 2021 Fangchi Liu

Mainland Chinese Truck Market Continues to Deteriorate, Supply Constraints Add to Production Woes

The policy-induced pre-loaded consumption has given mainland Chinese medium- and heavy-duty truck (MHDT) market a chill since July, with production cutting by nearly 60% as compared with the same period of last year. The current supply chain constraints caused by semi-conductor and power shortages will weigh on production activities into 2022. In our November 2021 forecast, we expect the mainland Chinese MHDT production to further loose around 25,000 units for the second half of 2021 and 15,000 units for the first quarter of the next year.

High inventories of China 5-level trucks remain the biggest dragger

Owing to the OEMs' price competition, the pre-buy activity in preparation for the China 6 emission rules were greatly amplified, resulting in an over-storage of China 5-level trucks across dealer channels in the first half of 2021. By the end of October, nationwide MHDT inventories are calculated at 260,000 units, still way higher than the typical rates of 150,000-170,000 units. Roughly two thirds of inventories are China 5-level trucks, despite a closure of registrations in major markets such as Hebei, Shaanxi, and Shandong. A part of the unsaleable trucks has flowed into the second-hand market with price depreciating up to 50%. Such price differential, coupled with common concerns over increasing usage cost, makes China-6 level trucks even less favorable. Although the final chance to register a China 5-level truck is set on December 31, 2021 in some regions, the high inventory pressure will likely deepen into early 2022 before the full clearance of new China 5-level trucks in the market.

Semiconductor shortage gets worse but under control

The global automotive semiconductor shortage has worsened by the pandemic resurgence in Malaysia and Vietnam since the summer months. To minimize losses under the tighter resources, some OEMs have prioritized production to bestselling models or new models that need to be pushed to the market, while some OEMs have placed orders of key accounts the first in line. Moreover, there have been cases of pausing acceptance of advanced orders because of the uncertainty about final deliveries. As a result, the average lead time of new trucks in most manufacturers are extended from one week to above four weeks. The sophisticated premium models that account for less than 10% market share suffered the most, with production line rates almost halved for several brands. We expect the semiconductor supply chain to stay gloomy for the coming months, but its impacts on the MHDT production should be manageable under sluggish sales of China 6-level trucks.

Power shortage risk may persist in the medium term

The coal supply disruption stemming from the mainland Chinese government's energy consumption control has triggered a severe power crunch across the nation, with more than 20 provinces experiencing different degrees of load shedding measures since mid-2021. Except for three northeastern provinces - Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang where the residential sector is affected, most provinces have kept power rationing measures within energy-intensive industries. Some energy-intensive industries such as aluminum, electronics, and steel are ordered to curtail capacity by 20-30% in the second half to meet carbon reduction commitments, posing more hurdles to automotive supply chain and industrial freight transport. On one hand, the softening demand for China 6-level trucks has hindered truck makers to pass the inflating producer cost on to retail prices. On the other hand, the continued downswing in industrial output will undermine the road freight recovery. Although the government has fine-tuned policies to ramp up coal production and reined in coal and power prices, an upturn is not likely to emerge until the second quarter of 2022 when the winter heating season ends. Given the government's anti-pollution ambitions, the supply disruption risks may sustain for quite a while.

With de-stocking of China 5-level new trucks, we predict MHDT inventories to rebuild from the third quarter of 2022, supporting some improvements in production. However, the expected slowing economy as well as economic reform measures including property deleveraging, financial de-risking, and industrial decarbonization will continue to act as a drag from the demand side. The recently released State Council's guideline on antipollution campaigns which highlight a nationwide elimination of China 1-3-level trucks by 2025 may bring a turn to the market, while its practical enforcement and impacts remain uncertain before the issuance of more specific measures.

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