Automakers fret as China clamps down on capacity

Norihiko Shirouzu, Yilei Sun –
Some automakers in China are alarmed by proposed government restrictions on investing in new manufacturing capacity and the ways in which Beijing is trying to trigger consolidation of the country’s flabby auto industry through mergers and strategic cooperation.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission, seeking to address mounting excess auto manufacturing capacity, wants to restrict ways automakers can invest in new capacity to manufacture traditional gasoline-fuelled cars as well as electric battery cars, according to a draft of the policy which has made public.
To be allowed to invest in greenfield developments such as new factories, automakers would need to have healthy, above-industry-average capacity utilisation and R&D investment, and a commitment to green cars and exports, among other conditions.
Industry players are alarmed by the prospects because they say very few automakers would be able to meet the conditions fully if the proposed policy took effect as drafted.
“It basically means, more or less, no more new factories. The government wants us to use existing idled factories to expand capacity instead,” a China-based executive with a global automaker said.
The proposed new rules come at a time when some automakers, especially Toyota Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co and Geely are growing their market share in China and are keen to investment in new capacity.
NDRC wants to prevent the excess capacity problem from becoming a crisis similar to those that have previously hit a score of other industries in China – from solar panels to steel to ship building, according to the four sources.
By making it difficult for automakers to install new capacity, China’s industrial policymakers want to trigger an industry consolidation, say the sources – two industry officials and two executives from automakers. NDRC did not respond to a request for comment.
BLOATED INDUSTRY: According to a 2017 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a third of China’s overall capacity in 2018, or 14 million of the 42.8 million vehicles a year capacity, is estimated to be idled.
China’s auto industry has grown rapidly, helped by generous subsidies and funds from the central government, as well as provinces trying to accelerate development and competing to create jobs.
PwC says China now has some 80 automotive groups and more than 180 vehicle assemblers but many have not had meaningful output or sales for years. Now, with growth set to slow and a slew of startups racing to add capacity to make electric cars, less successful producers face being squeezed out of the market.
The proposed policy, which NDRC published for public comment in July, says the agency wants to “encourage enterprises to carry out merging, reconstruction and strategic cooperation through equity investment and other modes, so as to… organise production jointly and enhance industrial concentration.”
The industry largely supports the “spirit” of the new policy but wants to see the NDRC dial down the restrictions, according to the four individuals who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“Our biggest concern is that the new policy, as proposed, places obstacles to a healthy, spontaneous development of the industry,” said one of the two industry officials representing foreign automakers. “It deprives us of the discretion we have in freely formulating business plans and invest without interventions.” NDRC indicated over the weekend it may modify the proposed rules but remained insistent on policing investments. — Reuters