Light vehicle sales continued to climb globally in the first quarter of 2011, providing continued optimism in most regions for the Powder Metallurgy companies which rely for up to 80% of their business on the automotive components sector.
Light vehicle sales in the USA accelerated by 20% in the first 3 months reaching 3.049 million of which the “Big Three” in North America sold 1.365 million, an increase of 20.7%, with the remainder imported. Total light vehicle production in North America (USA, Canada and Mexico) increased by 16% to 3.350 million (see table for breakdown).
In Europe, light vehicle sales were up 3% year-on-year in the 1st quarter of 2011, thanks to the continued buoyancy of the East European market. In Western Europe, Germany and France performed well, even though the latter’s strength is “scrappage incentive” assisted.
German sales were up 14% to the end of March 2011 to 763,403 units, and light vehicle production was up 8% to 1.494 million. France reported sales up 8.9% to 647,552 units. However, it was Russia which put in the best performance in the 1st quarter with a 77% increase in car sales to 517,304 units. Italy and Spain showed steep declines compared with a year ago when sales were boosted by the scrappage incentives, and the UK was down by 8.7%.
After the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March it is no surprise that car sales and production have plunged. The March 2011 selling rate was 3.5 million/units year, down 18% from 4.3 million units/year in February. Production of some 516,000 vehicles has been lost since the earthquake on March 11, and this total is expected to continue climbing with many automotive plants remaining offline until at least the end of April.
Those that have restarted operations are working at only limited capacity due to parts shortages and availability of power. The car industry is renowned for its exceptionally tight system of component inventories. In Korea car sales have held up very well in the 1st quarter of 2011 increasing by 3.4% to 370,990 units, and China reports an increase of around 10% for light vehicle sales compared with the same period in 2010.
South America’s two major markets, Brazil and Argentina, showed a combined selling rate of 4.1 million units/year in March which brings total sales in the 1st quarter to 998,510 units, an increase of 8.5%.