Global auto sales to hit 88.6 million in 2015, forecast says

Fueled by growth in North America and China, global light vehicle sales are expected to reach 88.6 million in 2015, according to research by IHS Automotive.

That would be a 2.4-percent increase compared with 2014 and would continue the industry's recovery in the wake of the global economic meltdown. While IHS expects continued expansion this year in key markets, growth is slowing worldwide amid uncertainty in Russia and South America.

IHS predicts North American sales will increase 2.5 percent to 20 million units this year spurred by continued strength in the US market, which could reach 16.9 million sales. The IHS findings mirror research from other firms, including Morgan Stanley and TrueCar, which are calling for around 17 million sales in the United States as gas prices remain low, consumer confidence is strong and financing is readily available. Automakers report US sales for January today, February 3.

China, meanwhile, is forecast to grow seven percent to 25.2 million vehicles this year, as consumers get better access to financing, dealership networks expand and the government supports scrappage programs designed to spur sales. Premium vehicles are expected to show strength and account for more than two million sales this year, increasing 15 percent over 2014. The SUV sector is also expanding to secure 28 percent of the market, a slight upturn from last year as drivers look to the segment to meet their changing needs, said Lin Huaibin, IHS Automotive manager for its China light vehicle sales forecast.

Still, IHS is tempering its growth projections due to uncertainty in Russia, which could affect other markets in Europe. Russia, which is in a deep recession, dealing with volatile currency and facing broader war in Ukraine, is expected to see its vehicle sales dwindle to just 1.8 million units, a drop of 27 percent from last year and a 40-percent collapse compared with 2012 sales, IHS says.

Conversely, auto sales in Western European nations are expected to increase three percent this year, following a five-percent leap in 2014. India is also seen as stabilizing, IHS says, and is expected to swing into a growth period after two down years.

IHS also sees a weakening auto sector in South America, as its largest market, Brazil, slips to 3.25 million sales amid weak job generation, tighter financing and an increase in the industry tax.

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Slower, Not Lower: IHS Automotive Forecasting 88.6 Million Unit Global Light Vehicle Market in 2015

Slower world sales growth to be supported by consumer windfall from sharply lower oil prices

"The size of the market contraction in Russia is the biggest wild card facing vehicle manufacturers across the European continent, if not the world, in 2015 and 2016"

SOUTHFIELD, Mich.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--With 2015 off to a good start, IHS Automotive, part of IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS), forecasts global automotive sales for 2015 to reach 88.6 million, an increase of 2.4 percent over 2014, continuing an unbroken five-year run of sales recovery and growth from the low point set in the depth of the Great Recession in 2009. However, a slowdown is being signaled with just two of the high-potential BRIC markets likely to see increased sales this year.

China will lead the sector's volume growth, though IHS expects the market to slow from 2014. The North American market will continue its upswing, though the pace differs by country. The size of the contraction of the Russian car market remains a significant wild card that will impact the European market throughout the year, according to the analysis, while other countries in the region continue to recover at a rate of 2.5 to 3 percent, helped by the European Central Bank's (ECB) commitment to full-blown Quantitative Easing (QE).

APAC Growth Continues to Lead Industry; A Slowing China Does Most of the Lifting

For the APAC region in 2015, China's economic growth will decelerate further, to 6.5 percent from 7.4 percent in 2014, as a result of industrial overcapacity and weakness in the real estate sector. However, IHS Automotive analysts still expect light vehicle sales in China to grow by 7 percent in 2015 to 25.2 million units, aided with increased auto finance penetration, fast dealership expansion and government vehicle scrappage programs.

According to the analysis, the current anti-trust campaign environment could alter the relationships among consumers, dealer and OEMs. The campaign is expected to have a long-lasting effect on premium parts/vehicle prices in China. Coupled with this, the momentum could lead to downward adjustment in premium pricing, which helps provide solid foundation for premium vehicle penetration to further increase in China in the next decade. We expect premium vehicles in China to top two million units in 2015 with year-over-year growth of 15 percent.

IHS Automotive experts also expect SUVs to remain the fastest-growing segment in China in 2015. "We see SUV market share (as percent of passenger vehicle sales) to increase from 26 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2015 as consumers look to this segment to address evolving transportation needs," said Lin Huaibin, manager, China light vehicle sales forecast, IHS Automotive.

In India, falling inflation, lower interest rates, energy prices and a regained confidence will help lift the car market into growth mode starting in 2015 after a two-year lull.

U.S. Growth Stimulates Global Demand Levels

North America continues to be an impetus to global light vehicle demand levels. Improving credit conditions throughout the region and sustained, but tenuous, economic growth among the countries in the region have helped to motivate total auto sales levels.

"Although the economic conditions and pace of recovery differ slightly among the North American countries, consumer confidence, credit availability and pent-up demand have played key roles in sustaining auto demand momentum since the Great Recession," said Chris Hopson, manager, North American light vehicle sales forecasting, IHS Automotive. "This should help motivate sales once again in 2015."

IHS Automotive projects regional light vehicle sales volume in North America to hit more than 20 million units in 2015, up 2.5 percent from last year.

In the United States, IHS Automotive analysts continue to believe the upside risks for auto demand are more apparent than the downside risks. With a strong exit to 2014, and gasoline prices currently plunging, consumers may feel even more positive throughout 2015. The IHS Automotive U.S. light vehicle sales forecast for 2015 is 16.9 million units.

Light vehicle sales in Canada set an annual record in 2014 that is scheduled to be broken once again in 2015. Light truck sales, especially CUVs, helped motivate demand levels last year and with lower fuel prices expected, should once again dominate growth in 2015. The Canadian light vehicle sales forecast from IHS Automotive for 2015 stands at 1.88 million units.

In Mexico, auto sales stalled through the first seven months of 2014, causing some concern that new tax policies implemented at the beginning of 2014 were hurting auto demand growth; however, motivated by incentives to help spark demand, light vehicle sales grew throughout the second half of the year. This momentum should continue in 2015, and IHS projects sales volume to grow 3 percent to 1.17 million units.

There was a stark change in 2014 South America automotive demand compared to 2013, when monthly sales broke the 500,000 unit mark seven times. The year preliminarily closed with 5.34 million units – a 10 percent drop from 2013; with politics impairing Argentina and Venezuela, and the economic climate weighing down markets like Brazil, Chile and Peru, where it may take a few years for demand to recover to previous highs.

Uncertainty lingers over Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela for 2015. Argentina is displaying hints of the "tango crisis" of 1998: uncontrolled inflation, lack of foreign currency and risk of devaluation. As a result, IHS Automotive is expecting 2015 sales in Argentina of roughly 500,000 units. In Brazil, banks have been tightening credit for the last three years, and they are not showing interest in boosting credit to the automotive sector. This, along with the increase in the IPI (an industry tax) in early January, higher financing rates and weak job generation should translate into sales in Brazil of 3.25 million units.

In Chile, doubt over car sales is drawn from the emissions tax and the risk of further currency devaluations will ring in the market close to the 300,000 unit mark. Finally, it is difficult to imagine the Venezuelan market tumbling any lower than it already has; however, as oil prices plummet, the government's access to foreign currency will continue to be limited, thus impairing vehicle production.

European Market Continues to be Influenced by Russia

In Europe, the crisis in Russia could offset the boon of lower fuel prices for Europe's car buyers and even the new QE boost from the ECB. As the Russian economy slumps into a deep recession in 2015, its negative impact on the Eurozone and surrounding countries could be large enough to offset the consumer benefit from falling fuel prices. Overall, the IHS forecast for light vehicle sales in Western Europe has only been fractionally upgraded for 2015 despite the benefits of $60 oil.

After a better-than-expected 5 percent increase in 2014, light vehicle sales in the mature West European region are forecast to improve by another 3 percent in 2015, with upside coming if the apparent open-ended commitment to QE by the ECB pushes the Euro down still further.

"The size of the market contraction in Russia is the biggest wild card facing vehicle manufacturers across the European continent, if not the world, in 2015 and 2016," said Nigel Griffiths, chief automotive economist, IHS Automotive.

After the recent enormous volatility of the Russian currency, prices of imported cars look like they will increase well over 20 percent or so and even domestically-produced vehicles will have to see double-digit price hikes. This, along with a deep recession compounded by the recent credit rating downgrades, could push the market down to just 1.8 million units; a 27 percent decline over 2014 and nearly 40 percent (1.2 million) below the market level recorded in 2012.

Global Sales Growth Continues amid Volatile Price Signals

From a global perspective, the auto industry is now being faced with and will have to adjust to very large and widespread exchange rate movements, commodity and raw material price changes and, of course, the new low oil prices. The last two will be significant tailwinds for the auto sector, its margins and for most of the world consumers, but at the same time, their unpredictability will mean long-term business plans will likely change at a more cautious pace.

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