General Motors Co.’s (NYSE: GM) fate relies as much on China as it does the manufacturer’s new electronic vehicles and self-driving cars. The point was hammered home as GM posted its October sales in China. America’s largest car company sold 382,723 vehicles in October. It delivered 252,813 in the United States for the same month.
The China number was particularly strong, up 11% from the same month a year ago. GM’s U.S. sales have not risen by anything close to that rate this year. It was also much better than the year-to-date figure for China. GM’s sales for the 10-month period was higher by 2.2% to a record 3,130,862.
And some of GM’s weaker brands in the United States did particularly well in China:
Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Baojun had their best ever October sales. SUVs remained the fastest-growing segment for GM, with sales surging 64 percent year over year. Demand for Cadillac luxury vehicles rose 36 percent from a year earlier, making October the brand’s 20th consecutive month of double-digit growth.
Baojun is made by a joint venture among GM, and China’s SAIC Motor and Wuling Automobile.
Cadillac sales have been weak in the United States, where they run far below Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Lexus. The data show how a brand can be transformed from one market to another.
GM faces three hurdles in China. The first is that every major global manufacturer has to look to the world’s largest market for growth. Sales in the United States and Europe have mostly stagnated, although at high levels.
GM also has to contend with local car companies. Although many of these are in joint ventures with outside car companies, there is no guarantee they will not break off on their own and try to take over their own market.
Finally, all car and light truck sales in China are up against the government’s war on air pollution. When large cities have extremely high pollution levels, the government chokes off the number of vehicles that can enter these metro areas. The seeds of China’s industrial strength may undermine sales of one of the largest industrial sectors in the world.
China will continue to be GM’s largest market. Whether it can grow at 11% is another matter.