Carmageddon for General Motors in China: Q3 Sales Collapse 30% from 2 Years Ago

Just how important is China to GM, its Largest Market & Once Biggest Hope for Growth?

General Motors is getting crushed in China, its largest market, and by far the largest auto market in the world. The auto industry overall has been getting hammered by the first downturn in modern China, based on data going back to the 1990s. The downturn started in mid-2018 and continues. So far this year, auto sales in China are down 10% from the same period in 2018. The whole year 2018 was already down 4% from the peak-year 2017. But this decline pales compared to how GM is getting crushed and re-crushed.

n the third quarter 2019, GM and its joint ventures delivered 689,531 vehicles in China, GM reported today. This was down 18% from the same period in 2018, down 30% from the same period in 2017, and down 25% from the same period in 2016:

In 2017, China’s and GM China’s record year in auto sales, the future was still enormously bright, and there was still the certainty that the Chinese government would always step in to stimulate the auto market, which it had done famously in 2008 and 2009, causing auto sales in China to soar during the Global Financial Crisis. But that certainty that the government would stimulate the market in mega-ways has now been downgraded to a distant and unfulfilled hope.

Seasonally, the fourth quarter in auto sales is always the strongest in China, and Q4 2017 had been the record quarter for GM when it delivered 1.29 million vehicles.

Just how important is China to GM?

In record year 2017, GM and its joint ventures sold 4.04 million vehicles in China. In the US that year, GM sold 3.0 million vehicles – about 25% fewer than in China.

GM’s sales have declined in both markets. But the mild-mannered downtrend in the US is nothing compared to the wild plunge in China. And the difference between the two markets is now shrinking for GM.

In 2019 so far, GM sold 2.26 million vehicles in China. In the US, it sold 2.15 million – only 4.9% fewer than in China, compared to 25% fewer in 2017.

The Joint Venture schemes

Having to partner with a Chinese company, often a state-owned company, and having to transfer technology to that joint venture partner was a required feature in China for foreign automakers if they wanted to access China’s 1.3 billion consumers. This requirement has come under heavy attack by the Trump administration, and the German government is now also lambasting that requirement, and China has started backing off. But that’s likely too late for GM.

GM’s most important partner is SAIC, one of the “Big Four” state-owned Chinese automakers. Their joint venture, SAIC-GM, offers numerous models under the Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac name plates. All of these vehicles are manufactured in China.

SAIC-GM also produces the Buick Envision compact SUV, which GM imports from China to the US. So far this year, 25,000 Envisions were sold in the US, up 10% from the same period in 2018.

Among the other GM joint ventures of note in China is SAIC-GM-Wuling, of which GM China owns 44%, SAIC 50.1%, and Guangxi Automobile Group (formerly Wuling Motors) 5.9%. The JV produces the Wuling brand mini-trucks and minivans and the Baojun brand passenger vehicles.

Cadillac rises, Everything else plunges

In its press release, GM said that it is going to bring “about 20 new and refreshed models” to market in China. This was touted as a “record.” So, GM is trying to turn the situation around with new models, and that’s good, because sanguinely sitting on your butt while getting drubbed doesn’t help. But all brands except Cadillac took a majestic drubbing in the third quarter:

  • Cadillac deliveries rose 11% to 51,049 units, a record for a third quarter, with sales of the CT6 high-end sedan soaring 68% to about 6,500 units. OK, that’s cute, but the numbers are tiny.
  • Buick deliveries plunged 21% to 199,688 units.
  • Chevrolet deliveries plunged 18% to 96,808 units.
  • Baojun deliveries plunged 35% to 122,900 units.
  • Wuling deliveries dropped 5% to 219,086 units, “sustaining its leadership in the mini-commercial vehicle segment,” as GM said.

Nearly all vehicles GM sells in China are manufactured in China. And a big part of GM’s supply chain even for its US production has moved to China after collapsing in the US during the Financial Crisis. GM has design centers in China, along with numerous other joint ventures.

While the US is still the market where GM makes most of its revenues and profits thanks to Americans’ appetite for high-priced pickups and SUVs, China is – or rather was – the market where GM had hoped to obtain most of its growth, after having essentially pulled out of Europe by selling Opel, while the US is a horribly mature and saturated market with no growth in unit sales in 20 years.

But those China growth hopes have gotten crushed. In its second-quarter SEC filing, released in August, GM disclosed that revenues of its JVs in China, measured in US dollars, have plunged 27% in the first half of the year, to $19.1 billion, and that profits of its JVs have plunged 47% to $1.3 billion.

There are two ways to answer the thorny question how much US car prices have risen: One way: the official CPI for new vehicles. The other way: retail prices. Here’s why many workers feel impoverished when they want to buy a new car. Read... Sticker Shock & Thorny Question: How Much Have Car Prices Really Risen over Three Decades?

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  58 comments for “Carmageddon for General Motors in China: Q3 Sales Collapse 30% from 2 Years Ago

  1. MC01 says:

    I remember in 2010 car manufacturers predicted yearly sales in China would continue to grow at 7-10% until 2025. Sales started stagnating in 2017 already: the Chinese market was completely saturated in just seven years.
    When I was a young boy I was given a book on the American Revolution which included a great deal of satyrical prints. A Colonial one depicted King George III surrounded by his ministers in the act of cutting off the head of the goose that laid the golden eggs to get the whole haul in one single stroke. A perfect metaphor.

    • mike says:

      The thing that US companies do not get is that the Chinese communist government must be viewed as a potential competitor. They are trying to get the investments from foreigners to get factories and technology. After these are obtained, the foreign investors are unnecessary and must lose.

      Apple, for example, transferred much of its technology. Now, it has huge competitors world wide n ZTE, etc. GM is in the same position. Expect this to continue, unless the US government deprives the communists of their greedy, foolish US investors by prohibiting investment in China.

      Customers in China will be under social pressure to purchase Chinese made products, and they have created official ways to give social scores that limit their customers’ freedom to travel, etc. Does anyone doubt that, as the trade disputes increase, persons who buy foreign made cars may face a lowering of their social credit score in China?

      If other pressures do not work, that will drastically reduce the sales of foreign automobiles, whenever the Chinese communist leaders desire such reductions.

      • Paulie says:

        If the Chinese economy undergoes a sustained downturn their government will be in big trouble. Their CP is no longer Communist so their ideology is unreal. The people support the government because the economy has been doing very well. If the economy slows down there will be no reason to support the government, and I hope it will collapse.

        • Tyronius says:

          Lol that hasn’t worked even in places considered ‘free’, like America. Do you hope America will collapse for the same reasons? I’ve seen such collapses and civil wars up close and personally- and I’ll bet dollars to donuts you haven’t. I don’t wish that on anyone, especially considering how contagious such instability is by its very nature. Your comment is shortsighted, reactionary and dangerous because it’s clear you don’t bother you think through the implications of your words. The reason I’ve given up hope for America is that people like you outnumber the intelligent.

      • char says:

        Social credit scores don’t work otherwise there wouldn’t be any Hell Angels or smokers

    • char says:

      Sorry, but you are wrong. If the Chinese state would not have changed policy then that 7-10% growth until 2025 would have come true.They changed policy because they realized that they could leapfrog the Western(Japanese) car makers going electric with the added benefit of being less dependent on oil and rationalizing the car industry sooner..

      • Rat Fink says:

        China generates most of it’s electricity from burning coal.

        The people have been getting restless because they are sick of breathing in polluted air.

        That is the main reason behind their ban on accepting our plastic rubbish. It was mostly being burned and releasing toxic substances into the air.

        So pushing EVs would create even more smog and anger the masses.

        Then there is the issue of what does China do with all those toxic batteries from EVs?

        It’s no surprise that sales of EVs are falling now

        • char says:

          China is going on a whole going green, going nuclear path but even if it was coal it would still mean air that people breath is cleaner and less dependent on American controlled oil imports.

    • alex in San Jose AKA Digital Detroit says:

      Why in the world would they think that? If I were Chinese, I’d want to drive a Chinese-made, preferably Chinese brand, car unless it was total crap and I mean, it’d have to be worse crap than the worst of the 1970s US cars were in the US.

      Hell I’d probably take pride in taking my piece o’crap Chinese car and working out fixes to make it better, for internet luls and who knows, maybe get a better job out of it? This is how kids worldwide are doing things now, open-source collaborating, taking a product they like and making it better.

      • MC01 says:

        I think too many people still see China in Yellow Peril/Dr Fu Manchu perspective. The problem is not China: it’s automakers as a group. These guys live in a parallel universe, likely populated by raging lunatics like themselves. Just look at how they expand their dealership networks and then pit dealer against dealer to increase sales. Or how they have made warranty procedures such a miserable procedure dealers try to avoid them like the plague… ending up alienating longtime customers for a €18 temperature sensor and 10 minutes work. These folks have frontrun so much growth they are now desperately pushing for electric vehicle subsidies, not so much because they care about the environment (they’d sell their kids for a 3% sales boost) but because they are desperate for growth and EV are all they have left, but they are so expensive. Thirty grands plus VAT (including a fat discount) for a small delivery van? These people must have drunk a whole can of paint thinner.

        • Recently the Dali Lama and the head of GM both said the same thing “Imagine a world in which everyone drives a car?” . The context is priceless.

    • Winston says:

      “A perfect metaphor.”

      Greed and unrealistic wishful thinking (i.e., a brutal Communist regime will mellow as the people are no longer starving and demand democracy instead of becoming a highly technologically advanced police state preventing democratization and a major military adversary) led to corporations handing China advanced IP on a silver platter or allowing them to steal it with no consequences. There were and are books and scholarly studies showing that IP theft is CULTURAL in China, so this could have been well known in advance. Another huge mistake was allowing them to plug into the world financial and trade systems and giving them most favored nation status.

      What the Chinese have done is take advantage of a flaw in capitalism (short term thinking for near term gain) that can only be countered by governments preventing geopolitically unwise business deals (at least governments which are not also BOUGHT as ours is) to prove the truth of an old commie adage: “A capitalist will sell you the rope you hang him with.”

      Now, unlike with the Soviet Union which was doomed to fail due to its economic system, we have an advanced adversary enabled by capitalism, stolen technology, a blatant spy network in the US far beyond what would have been tolerated with the Soviets since they were never officially portrayed as our friends, and 1.4 billion hard working people.

      One of the dumbest mistakes in history…

      • sierra7 says:

        The car companies and the others who have jumped whole heartedly into China are just, “….doing God’s work!” LOL!
        We can’t even decently regulate our own business financial system and we gripe about China????????? Again, LOL!!!!
        We need to “clean house” here before we bitch and moan about another who only participates in the system we want to spread to the world.

  2. The Chinese only buy cars that hold up well in crashes.

  3. akiddy111 says:

    GM’s total global revenue for 2019 should come in about 1% less than 2018. It’s full year earnings are forecast to be slightly higher than 2018.

    • Vespa P200E says:

      Government Motors bailed out by Obama has kowtow’ed to Chinese for years and like NBA/China BA mind as well move the HQ to China.

      Chinese over the years starting with VW stole if not forced by the JV partners (SOEs controlled by CCP) to hand over the IP and know-how.

      Even TSLA became Chinese boot-lickers with $0.5 bil in financing for Shanghai factory mostly from Chinese banks (owned by CCP of course) and the little print on the contract stipulates that IF the factory is not profitable by 2023 then CCP takes over the factory. That is if TSLA is still around in 4 yrs after surviving the inevitable Chap 11 followed by Chap 7 as the Germans finally catch-up.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Well, automotive revenues fell 3.3% in the first half. And this comes despite hefty increases in the Average Transaction Price in the US. Sells fewer vehicles, charges more for them, and automotive revenues still fall despite higher prices. Works like a charm, for a while.

      Where revenues are up are in GM Financial.

      • kam says:

        GM has killed off its brand.
        “The Cadillac of…..” now means absolutely nothing.
        And the Chinese Buick? My old pappy’s 1953 Buick, straight 8, yeah, now that was a car.

  4. Endeavor says:

    One can surmise that the Chinese aren’t quite ready to embrace excessive auto debt.

  5. WES says:

    Wolf: The details cited in your GM-China article are accurate. I wish I could add more interesting details but unfortunately I can’t.

    I can say GM kept the Buick name because it was a name well known to the Chinese from the pre-communist era.


    • Vespa P200E says:

      Sorry Wes – Buicks in China is not your grandfather’s kind of Buick as with rebadged Chevy and GM Korea cars. Chinese buyers have a lot of options of local copy-cat cars/brands plus foreign brands from Japan, Korea, US, Germany, UK, France, etc.

      Wouldn’t be surprised if and when Government Motors’s CCP-controlled SOE (state owned enterprises) SAIC buys out or kicks out the JV partners like GM with Mary running to WH to beg Trump for yet another bailout…

    • Wolf Richter says:


      “GM kept the Buick name because it was a name well known to the Chinese from the pre-communist era”

      Yes, this was one of the most amazing things to watch. The Buick brand became essentially moribund in the US, and GM would have scuttled it had it not been for the near-reverence Chinese consumers had for it from long ago.

      • roddy6667 says:

        I doubt that anybody who is old enough to remember Buicks in the pre-Communist era is in the market for a car.

        • sierra7 says:

          Used to “tool around” with buddies in the late 1940’s (In SF); friend’s parents 1939 Buick Sedan; Later one of my uncle’s had a late 1960’s Packard; both straight 8’s. It always felt like the faster you flew down the highway the more “tight” those car(s) would hug the road!!!!
          Being old enough have no desire for a “new” car; have had a 2006 Honda Odyssey that I bought in 2009 and it fits me perfectly….plenty of room for an old man like me to get my knees past the steering wheel and plenty of comfort/speed/good handling to allow me to get to the Bay Area from the foothills of the Sierras. Especially now that #205/Livermore Altamont Pass has been redone……just like “flying low”!
          As an aside query: I wonder how many were left stranded this past “PG&E Safety Power Shutdown” in Calif. driving EV’s??????? Our outage in my area lasted from Wednesday 3PM, 9th of October to Friday evening 8:15PM.

  6. unit472 says:

    I suppose its a good thing that Cadillac sales are still strong. It shows anti American sentiment is not being revved up ( so far ) in China. I recall a few years back after a confrontation with Japan over the Senkaku Islands or some such, Japanese autos were being vandalized by mobs.

    It is curious just how much auto badges are associated with the nation of origin no matter their local content.

  7. curiouscat says:

    My Chinese friends tell me that parking is a major, often insurmountable, problem. I’m not surprised sales are falling.

    • roddy6667 says:

      People live in mid- and high-rises here in China. There are parking garages under anything less than ten years old, but they are expensive. When we bought our home here, the parking space cost $22,000 US. Now they are over $50,000 US. You can pay to park, but it won’t be that close to your home. The on street parking is all taken. Finding a spot is a major daily pain.
      There is now a growing market of rental cars that work off a phone app, like ZipCar. These are EV’s that are available in rental plazas everywhere. It is much easier to rent a car for a couple of hours or a day and return it to the charger at the same place than to own one. Look for this to be the big trend in China.

      • MCH says:

        Fleet sales… Woohooo, just build a bunch of SUVs for the fleet, and GM will be good to go.

        Oh wait, it’s not a good idea, is it? With a place like China, Didi makes a lot of sense, owning one’s own car isn’t necessarily a good thing. Especially considering the larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai, etc.

        Growth is not necessarily a good thing, just be Coke, and sell sugar water. Everybody loves sugar water. It’s a nice stable business, all of it is about brand recognition, and very little real threat from China. They know that it’s non-core.

      • panatomic-x says:

        sounds like nyc. i park my van 45 mins away for $190/mo eventhough parking is available in my building for $600/mo. btw, half of my buildings garage is rented by dept of homeland seurity. they barely use the cars and the attendant tells me that they pay full rate card. our tax dollars at work!

      • QQQBall says:


        In LA, if developers provide some low-income units in a project in a transit area, they get huge density increase and higher max building height. I looked at a property with density by right near 20 units; after density bonus it was like 42 units! Before redevelopment, it had 6 litlle 1-story units! A major bonus is parking required at .5 Space/Unit and some of it can be bicycle racks. Again, this is Los Angeles. Watch for the City to expand permits for on-street parking at much higher rates. Looks like they are forcing peeps onto muni transit and cycles. Gubbermint is re-doing a major street where I live and the bicycle lane is as wide as a car lane. There is going to be nowhere to park.

  8. Jim Watson says:

    And GM has nothing to do with basketball.

  9. Mars says:

    What is GM’s ratio ICE:EV in China?

  10. David Hall says:

    There is a movement to relocate rural people to cities. Sometimes cities were built in advance of their arrival. You may find public transportation in a city.

    Zoning in the US does not allow multifamily housing in many places. It does not seem efficient. Condos are cheaper, but illegal in many areas.

  11. Jack2 says:

    I think those GM execs put too much into those fortune cookies they were consuming while times were good.

  12. nick kelly says:

    Transfer technology from GM?

    It’s not that long ago that new GM models proudly announced (on the car!) that the fuel injection system was now Multipoint, meaning fuel was injected into a each cylinder individually, years after everyone else.
    Honda was offering multi-valve engines I believe a decade before GM.

    Autos haven’t been at the cutting edge of tech for several decades anyway but GM has always been a follower.

    • panatomic-x says:

      i sure hope they sent the chinese the designs for the crap gm transmissions!

  13. Tom says:

    Maybe GM needs to put cartman in some of their ads.

    I’m with towelie on the CCP.

    Wolf you need to get a commodities expert to give us a run down
    on how bad it looks for harvest #’s. Beans, corn, and feed costs are only going to go in one direction from here.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      Commodities NEVER just go in “one direction.” Ag commodity prices included. Corn spiked to $8 a bushel in 2012 and has since collapsed to about $3.90 a bushel. Very tough being a corn farmer right now. Overproduction is a huge issue, and it crushes prices of commodities.

      We’re gonna have an article about this pretty soon.

  14. R2D2 says:

    US has made the same mistake as the British Empire…

    UK naively gave all its best car tech to the US and Japan in 1940 to 1970. The American and Japanese firms promptly swallowed the tech, and then swallowed the British car industry.

    UK was the world’s no.1 car and motorbike exporter in 1950… By 2000, 99% of the UK-owned car and motorbike industry had collapsed and disappeared.

    US has done the same… Given its tech to bigger China. And, now, China is in the process of gobbling up the China car market and rapidly expanding abroad. For example, Volvo and MG, both Chinese, are the fastest-growing car brands in the UK right now, grabbing share from Ford, Chrysler and others.

    History is repeating itself!

    • char says:

      Its European Opel tech. I don’t really believe that China is that interested in US car tech

    • robt says:

      Compared to US cars, before or after 1950 UK cars were garbage, tiny engines, slow, lousy on the highway, wouldn’t start in the cold – or rainy weather, terrible electrical systems. Expensive to repair, etc etc. Actually, most European cars were just not suited to North American use.

    • nick kelly says:

      When I read this I thought WTF?
      But it’s true: in 1950 the UK had 52 % of the EXPORT market.
      The catch: the largest market was the US. which was practically immune to the 1000 to 1200 cc typical Brit exports. But there was no way recovering Europe could possibly afford a V 8 or a 6. VW wasn’t quite rolling yet, so the only producer of budget cars was in the UK. Largest producer: Ford at Deganham, the largest factory in Europe with 50,000 employees.

      But that’s all trivia. What grabs me is the idea that autos 50 years ago were so high tech that Japan would never have known about it, if hadn’t been transferred by stupid Brits.
      They built the Zero fighter all by themselves, with much higher performance than a car engine.

      There have been no basic fundamental improvements in auto engines for 50 years. The biggest improvement in manufacturing since the assembly line is the ‘just in time’ system,also known as the Toyota System.

      It would be the VW Beetle that practically wiped out UK cars, with zero stolen tech.

      • nick kelly says:

        PS: most of the ’50 years’ should read ’70 years’

        • Zantetsu says:

          I would argue that your point about no basic fundamental improvements in auto engines for 50/70 years is completely ridiculous, but I don’t want to get an argument with you about it. I am quite sure you’ll just keep moving the goalposts.

      • Greg Hamilton says:

        The Vought V-141 prototype airplane was sold to the Japanese army in 1937 in a similar fashion to the Christie battle tank being sold to the Soviet Union in 1930. Both had an impact on the design of their respective airplanes (Mitsubishi Zero) and tanks (T-34).
        Something to think about.

      • nick kelly says:

        For example. the Chevrolet 250 cu inch inline- six was in production in North America from 1929 until 1990. GM Brazil hung on to a fuel- injected version until 1998 ( I suspect it was GM’s mickey mouse throttle body FI) or just short of a 70 year run for the base engine.

    • panatomic-x says:

      the brits are great at engineers but what put the us ahead was economies of scale. the japanese in studied us mass production techniques and actually implemented quality control theories that the us never fully embraced. then, the japanese perfected just in time inventory control and it was basically game over.

  15. Michael Engel says:

    Turkey eating next month.
    GM China, turkey last month.
    Buick made in China and Chinese parts are cheaper,
    because the $USDRMB is strong.
    GM Parts used by GM anywhere are cheaper today.
    All car mfg are losing sales in China, not just GM.

  16. char says:

    “Having to partner with a Chinese company, often a state-owned company, and having to transfer technology to that joint venture partner was a required feature in China for foreign automakers”

    It is not like any other country has ever done that.

    ps. I say this with sarcasm. Even US did this (Toyota-GM joint venture obvious) but also Spain, Poland , Romania, Turkey, USSR, Iran. India, Taiwan, Korea & more states did this in the last 50 years.

  17. Michael says:

    Oh looks like Mary Barra might need to take a cut on her $21 million salary.

  18. Vic says:

    This is slightly off topic but related. I just ordered Motorcraft front bearing hubs for my ‘08 Explorer Sport Trac at 151k miles. Took two weeks to get them (vendor Tasca Ford said special order), but quality looks great and the fit was spot on. Motorcraft label, parts manufactured in China.

  19. Augusto says:

    China is going down and should go down given its Orwellian pretensions, treatment of minorities, and Hong Kong crackdown to name a few. Trump and his Admin should not send them a lifeline. But after he threw the Kurds to the Turkish wolves, the Kurds, the only real friend it had in the region and the only allies who would actually fight the Islamic State, for a temporary pop in the stock market, well you know…This guy and his Wall Street cheerleaders would sell every ally and friend the US has to the slave market in a heartbeat for a second term, his version of “winning”. As to the USA, Like the song says “What have you become, my favourite friend”

    • sierra7 says:

      Kissinger told the Kurds decades ago: “Don’t confuse foreign policy with a charity program!”
      The US has betrayed the Kurds many, many times……..This is just one more time.

  20. I wasn’t aware of how strongly GM had moved into China, but the move to a growth market makes sense for them. Will be interesting to see how they weather this downturn.

  21. Stanley Renfeld says:

    I hope they go bankrupt again and CEO’s lose all their money. My father lost $500,000 in GM bonds thanks to Obama’s 10 cents on the dollar policy letting all the normal creditors be last in the payment line instead of being first. This is how bankruptcies always were handled. Obama is a socialist, communist like China’s government.

    • Javert Chip says:

      I’d be content for GM and its UAW union to crawl into a corner and die of some mutual death-grip.

      After a (probably rough) transition of a year or two, I suspect US-made (even if by BMW, VW, Toyota, Honda, Nissan…) car volume would be about the same.

      We’d just have one less stupid car company and a whole bunch of money-grubbing, job-killing, soon-to-be-non-union-members wandering around wondering where their jobs went.

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