SHANGHAI — China’s chief auto trade association estimates that industry sales in April dropped 48 percent year-on-year, as zero COVID-19 policies shuttered factories, limited showroom traffic and put the brakes on consumer and business spending.
The estimate represents the steepest decline in sales in the world’s largest auto market since February 2020, near the outset of the pandemic, when volume fell 79 percent from a year earlier.
Car sales in the first four months of the year could fall 12 percent from a year earlier, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said on Friday.
The sharp decline is the latest sign of the economic costs of emergency measures China imposed to control a coronavirus outbreak in Shanghai and other cities in recent weeks and comes as manufacturers battle to restart production.
The overall sales estimate was also lower than an earlier one based on retail sales for the first three weeks of April.
The China Passenger Car Association estimated retail deliveries of passenger cars in China were running 39 percent lower in the first three weeks of April from a year earlier.
Showrooms, stores and malls in Shanghai were shut during the month and the city’s 25 million residents were unable to shop online for much beyond food and daily necessities.
Analysts at Nomura estimated in mid-April that 45 cities, representing 40 percent of China’s GDP, were under full or partial lockdowns, with a growing risk of recession.
A survey by an association of China’s auto dealers showed that showrooms in 34 cities had been closed by COVID-19 control measures in April, most for more than a week.
Before the Shanghai lockdown, sales of electric vehicles had been booming. Tesla’s sales in China had jumped 56 percent in the first quarter, while its larger rival in China, BYD, saw EV deliveries quintuple.
Earlier this week, three of China’s most prominent EV makers also reported sharply lower sales.
SAIC Motor Corp., China’s largest auto company by sales and a partner with Volkswagen Group and General Motors, reported a 60 percent decline in April sales.
Tesla aims to increase output at its Shanghai plant to pre-lockdown levels by May 16, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
The disruption to Tesla’s plant has been one of the highest profile consequences of China’s measures to control the latest COVID-19 outbreak, its largest to date, with strict controls.
Tesla’s progress, however, comes as a survey showed that Japanese companies are struggling to reopen factories in Shanghai, indicating problems with the municipal government’s push to help key businesses resume operations.