Coronavirus: China's Auto Industry Struggles To Motor Ahead Post-lockdown

When China's Parliament meets for its annual session next week, big as well as small businesses will be looking out for pledges of aid as many struggle to emerge from the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first of a three-part series, The Straits Times examines the country's auto industry, which is centred in Wuhan, the former epicentre of the outbreak.

Sales figures appear to be gradually picking up, so workers in China's car-production capital, Wuhan, have been clocking overtime. This is to make up for the loss in production after the city went into lockdown earlier this year because of the coronavirus which causes Covid-19.

The industry has suffered its worst quarter, with only 3.4 million cars sold in the first three months of this year. Car sales had been dwindling for years, and automakers were hoping for a turnaround in 2020.

But local automakers - whose clients are less affluent and more sensitive to economic disruption - could be hit hardest, with no end in sight to the global pandemic and consumers more cautious about spending.

Chinese consumers bought 1.43 million passenger vehicles last month, data from the state-backed China Passenger Car Association showed.

That represents a 5.6 per cent drop year on year, but it is a vast improvement from the 79 per cent plunge registered in February, the industry's worst month, as sales came to a near standstill.

In Wuhan's Dongfeng Honda Automobile, a joint venture between local carmaker Dongfeng Motor and Japan's Honda, employees now pull an extra 1½ hours of overtime every shift just to fulfil the backlog of orders.

Since reopening on March 11, Dongfeng Honda has restored its production capacity to the peak level of more than 3,000 cars a day.