The overall economic recovery in the euro area in 2015 was somewhat stronger in fact than had been expected at the start of the year. However, the upswing was not actually all that strong. The United States, in turn, grew somewhat slower than first expected, but was still solid. It only made sense, then, that the US Federal Reserve signaled the end of the zero-interest phase with an initial interest rate increase. The performance of the Chinese gross domestic product, in contrast, is becoming less dynamic. India grew faster than China. Whether the Indian economy will soon really get going, however, is questionable. Russia and Brazil experienced deep recessions.
The Chinese passenger car market again defended its leading position as the largest single market in the world. A total of 20 million basic cars, MPVs and SUVs were sold in the People’s Republic in 2015. However, the much-cited new normality in the Middle Kingdom has now finally reached the automobile business as well. With a gain of a 9 percent, China was not able to continue the double-digit growth rates of recent years. Economic weakness and increasingly restrictive policies on new registrations had actually caused the Chinese passenger car market to run into negative growth numbers in the summer months. At the end of the year, however, sales jumped – thanks to the value-added tax being cut in half starting in October for vehicles with up to 1.6 liter displacement. The market for electric vehicles boomed in 2015. During the year, around 206,800 electrically powered vehicles were sold in China. This equates to 300 percent growth over the previous year.
Sales of light vehicle in the USA – including passenger cars and light trucks – performed very nicely in 2015. Sales added 6 percent and exceeded the previous record level from 2000 with a volume of nearly 17.4 million vehicles. The market continued its recovery course and grew for the sixth year in a row. However, market growth is not equally distributed. While the overall market grew in the past year, passenger car sales fell by 2 percent. A total of 7.5 million passenger cars were sold. As a result, there was a further shift to light trucks, sales of which rose by nearly 13 percent to 9.9 million units. The light truck share of the overall light vehicle market thus increased to nearly 57 percent, compared with 53 percent in the previous year.
The USA lost its position as the world’s largest market for electric cars last year and was overtaken by China. The electric market in the US shrank by a good 5 percent to 114,300 units. Sales of purely electric light vehicles (BEV) grew by 8 percent to 70,800 units, while turnover of plug-in hybrids (PHEV) dropped by 22 percent to 43,500 vehicles. German manufacturers were able to more than double their sales in the shrinking market, thereby substantially increasing their market share. They sold 23,200 electric vehicles (up 103 percent) and reached a market share of 20 percent (previous year: 9 percent).
The extremely weak overall economic situation put pressure on automobile markets in two of the most important economies in Latin America. In 2015, light vehicle sales in the Mercosur countries Argentina and Brazil reached a total volume of 3 million – a drop of nearly 22 percent. The Brazilian light vehicle market reeled under a bitter setback in 2015 overall. With a drop of nearly 26 percent, the market dropped to about 2.5 million units, the lowest volume since 2007. In Argentina, inflationary pressure, currency devaluation and falling investment did not hit the light vehicle market quite as hard as in the neighboring country of Brazil. After new car turnover faced a strong headwind in the first half of 2015, so that light vehicle sales dropped by a good 6 percent, increasing real wages and measures to promote consumer demand pulled the Argentinian market back into positive numbers in the second half of the year.
The Indian passenger car market found its way back to stability in 2015. Around 2.8 million vehicles were sold in India in the past year – against a backdrop of easing inflation pressure, low crude oil prices, and low interest rates, passenger car turnover rose by nearly 8 percent. The Indian automotive market remained well below its potential again in the past year, however. A low ownership rate of 22 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, a young population and growing middle class with rising income should be driving growth. All of this means that higher growth rates should be expected for the emergent economy of India – but no trace of this is evident as of yet.