Richard Shamoon, confidence shocks, and false starts for growth, the disarray seems to be undermining the timid recoveries in most economies since the start of the year. And yet the automotive market seems to be getting its color back. When we look at global production, it seems the crisis has (finally) been erased and auto makers are returning to pre2009 annual growth rates of around +4%. Also, the presaged end of the car has not eventuated. Despite an apparent social preference for usage over ownership, the emergence – although slowed – of middle classes continues to fuel car sales. After all, with a little more wealth people always do the same thing, and this since the industrial revolution. First, they eat better, then they buy a first or replacement TV, then a washing machine, a mobile phone, and eventually, with a little more money (and often a loan), we buy our first car (or trade in the old one) before thinking of buying a house. This rather simple – but no less true – summary of the wealth effect (which does not take into account the wellbeing effect associated with a car, etc.) shows, if needed, that the health of the automotive market remains an important factor in understanding the growth dynamics of a given country.
Looking at ten or so markets, including the United States, Europe, and the BRICs, the opportunities and economic risks facing these countries are quite clear. With tumbling markets in Thailand, Brazil, Russia, and Argentina, poor profitability among European players and excessive profitability in the Chinese market, the automotive sector corroborates the broad macroeconomic trends and provides a glimpse of what is to come, which is actually quite positive. In fact, looking at market potential, we see that the reindustrialization of the United Kingdom and the United States is being confirmed by the return of automotive production, albeit partial; that Spain, France, and Germany are battling to save the automotive sector for the political symbolism it entails, and that Italy and Belgium are continuing to suffer. We also see that Japan is doing wonders in its automotive market thanks to an aggressive economic policy, and that the Chinese market needs to consolidate and revise its pricing to shift up a gear. There is both good news and more to be done, while the Paris Motor Show in a few weeks will continue to pique our imagination between innovation, design, and hedonism.