Americans Are Buying More Autos Than Chinese After Stock Rout

  • August is second month where U.S. auto sales exceeded China's
  • China remains on track to lead U.S as largest market in 2015

American consumers purchased more passenger vehicles than their Chinese counterparts for a second straight month, helped by affordable fuel prices and an equities rout in China that stung local retail investors.

Total light vehicles sales in the U.S. reached 1.58 million units in August, more than the 1.42 million units recorded in China, according to a comparison of figures from Autodata Corp. and the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. In July, the U.S. outsold China by about 240,000 units, the data show.

Consumers in China are shunning showrooms after a summer stock-market rout sapped discretionary spending, even as affordable fuel and available credit encouraged Americans to snap up pickups and sport utility vehicles. The latest data also marks a reversal from the global financial crisis in 2009, when government stimulus helped China surpass the U.S. to become the world’s largest market for new vehicle sales.

“The U.S. consumer is feeling more confident so they are willing to splash out on new cars,” said Lian Hoon Lim, managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners in an interview in Shanghai. “They are playing catch-up at the same time as the market here is saying ‘Oh, I’ve already grown so much, it’s time to slow down.’"

This year, the China auto association is predicting sales to grow at the slowest pace in four years as consumers canceled or postponed purchases in the wake of a plunge in the stock market. That will still be enough to keep China in the lead over the U.S. as the biggest passenger vehicle market, with the association estimating 20.9 million in sales versus General Motors Co.’s prediction for 17.3 million in U.S. industry deliveries.

Two other similar indices, compiled by Bloomberg from Ward’s Automotive Group in the U.S. and China Automotive Information Net, show monthly sales of autos in the U.S. exceeded those in China in July for the first time since August 2009.

“I think it’s fair to say that this sudden boost in new car sales in the U.S. and in Europe, that also will not last very long,” said Lim at AlixPartners. “Because we’ve already got a market that is significantly larger than the U.S. It’s hard to see a scenario where the economy collapses and car sales dry up.”

Autodata, an industry researcher based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, counts pickup trucks like Ford’s F-150 in its passenger vehicle tally, while the China auto association includes mini-commercial vehicles made by GM’s Wuling brand.