Do not think for a second that automakers forcing inventory on dealers in order to pad the numbers is a ruse known only in the US. Stories of individual brands have hinted at the trouble Chinese dealerships are having trying to move units as the country's economic growth remains hot but comes off the boil, like the one revealing that 95 percent of Toyota-FAW showrooms are losing money. Yet Toyota isn't the only culprit, and the issue has become so dire that the China Automobile Dealers Association (CADA), the largest dealer body in the country, has written to the government to complain.

Chinese car sales are expected to close out the year with an annualized growth of six-percent, down from last year's 14 percent when targets were set, while in the background the pace of overall economic expansion is the slowest its been since the early nineties. Automakers, shipping cars on schedule to make their earlier targets, have blown up inventories such that they are an average of 1.8 times monthly sales, when the preferred multiplier is from 0.9 to 1.2. According to the CADA, the price wars and necessary incentives mean that only 30 percent of dealers are operating in the black. That number is down a whopping forty percent since 2010.

In response, Toyota has already said it will not make its 2014 target of 1.1 million cars sold. We're a long way from 2012, when Toyota planned on selling 1.8 million cars in China in 2015, a target that's now as realistic as a manticore. BMW, Honda and Nissan have erased numbers on their spreadsheets, too; BMW growth dropped from 20 percent to 8 percent midyear after it began "reducing wholesale supplies," and Honda has been reworking its plans as sales have decreased each of the past six months.

It's a big deal for Chinese dealers to begin protesting publicly, the CADA saying, "In the past, dealers were angry, but dared not speak out. But now, they have to shout because the situation is getting so unbearable." With six-percent growth forecast for next year and dealers unwilling to remain underwater, The Year of the Sheep coming in 2015 could portend meaning beyond the zodiac.

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