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Heraeus Precious Appraisal

  • Edition 24 - 22 July 2019

China car sales: BEVs’ gain, petrol and palladium's pain

China is compressing several major automotive trends into a short timeframe, with rather unpredictable outcomes over the short term. This includes improving air quality, electrifying powertrains, aligning fiscal incentives with local manufacturing and pollution targets, and rightsizing domestic manufacturers. The decision by some provinces to bring forward the implementation of China 6 emissions legislation by a year to July this year has added to the challenges faced by China’s auto industry.

China’s car sales are down 12.4% in the first six months of the year (source: China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM)). Consumer demand has been weak and an acrimonious trade war has not helped sentiment. Car sales fell 9.6% year-on-year in June for a twelfth consecutive monthly decline. However, while sales in all car segments have dropped, petrol and electric vehicles have performed very differently.

Battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales have been surging, while petrol sales have fallen. BEV sales are up 68% at 440,000 in H1’19, while petrol car sales are down 17% at 9,278,000. However, petrol cars are the largest segment and will remain so for many years. BEV and PHEV sales together make up only 5.6% of total sales.

For palladium demand, the decline in petrol car sales is outweighing gains from tighter emissions legislation this year. China 6 requires higher palladium loadings in autocatalysts which, along with the growth in car sales that was anticipated at the start of the year, was expected to see palladium use in China increase by 5% to well over 2 moz this year. However, if car sales were to drop by 10% for the full year then palladium demand could fall by 5% to under 2 moz. With the palladium price trading close to its highest-ever level, it is hard to see further upside in the short term. However, growth in Chinese car sales is expected to resume next year, lifting palladium demand, and the palladium market will remain in deficit which is likely to take the price to new highs.

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