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Auto Finance Market Opens Up
Mr. Li Yi, 28 years old and an IT company employee, has dreamt of owning an automobile for years. Not having enough money saved to make his dream come true, he had planned to look to the banks for a loan. But now he sees a new alternative source of finance on the horizon. “I think I’d be best to wait a while as foreign companies in the auto finance business are to be allowed into the Chinese market. This may well bring me some interesting new options to check out,” said Mr. Li.

The release of details of the Draft Rules for the Management of the Auto Finance Industry has shown that the country is now set to allow foreign “non-financial institutions” to engage in auto finance business in China. Industry insiders consider the countdown has already started for the opening up of the auto finance sector.

China is bound to live up to a WTO entry commitment to “allow foreign non-banking financial institutions to enter China’s consumer credit market in auto finance, where they may carry out business free from restrictions on access to the market or other differential treatment.” The first foreign auto finance enterprises are expected to open their doors for business in China later this year.

China has the fastest growing auto market in the world. 2002 was yet another record year for both auto manufacturing and auto sales. A total of 1.02 million new cars were sold from January through November, 55 percent up on the corresponding period in the previous year.

America’s General Motors estimates that by the year 2010 China will have grown into the third largest auto market in the world, lying behind only the United States and Japan. It also predicts that by then, 50 percent of autos will be sold through auto finance deals.

Research into where the profits are made in the auto industry has shown that less than 40 percent of lifecycle profits are attributable to manufacturing. Over 60 percent are generated in distribution and after sales service. Fundamental changes have taken place in the global auto sector with financial services now a more profitable business activity than manufacturing.

Globally auto manufacturers sell about 70 percent of their production through auto finance deals while the figure in China is still a meagerly 10 to 15 percent. Is this to be the Shangri-La of the world of auto finance?

The major auto manufacturers usually have their own auto finance subsidiaries to provide their customers with convenient and affordable access to loans, insurance etc. These companies are moving up into top gear as they prepare for the drive into China’s auto market. The new draft rules have effectively given them the green light they need.

The foreign auto finance giants such as the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, Ford Credit and the German Volkswagen Auto-financing Service Company are all on the starting grid having already submitted applications.

Ford Credit, the auto financing subsidiary of Ford, set up an office in Beijing in 1995. Volkswagen followed on in 1998 and GM in 1999.

“What we can offer the consumer is more than just another traditional bank loan. We have a full package which also includes maintenance and recovery services,” said a vice chairman of the GM China Group.

German Volkswagen has been researching the opportunities and risks inherent in auto financing in China for a little longer. Dr Robert Büchelhofer, president of the company's Asia-Pacific Region thinks that Volkswagen is well prepared to provide its brand of auto finance services in China.

Auto financing has previously always been the reserve of the banks and insurance companies in China. The domestic auto manufacturers never did get involved historically.

“I see the banks as our main competitors. China’s auto manufacturers haven’t yet learned how to sell autos,” said one representative of a foreign auto finance company, who preferred to go unnamed.

Domestic auto manufacturers have been anticipating the imminent impact of the foreign auto giants’ commercial expertise and strength. Bidding to sharpen their competitive edge in the fight for market share, they are now seeking to forge their own alliances with banks and insurance companies. Chinese-funded banks have also been active in promoting innovative and creative solutions.

Dongfeng Motor Corporation has pioneered an auto credit sales business operating as a non-banking institution under the umbrella of a subsidiary auto financing company.

Jiangling Auto-financing Company and China’s FAW Group-Volkswagen Credit Corporation have followed suit. Huachen Auto Corporation offers an auto finance option to distributors of its Zhonghua sedan and even provides assistance with the cash flow necessary to maintain their stock levels. The Shanghai Auto Credit Corporation is well prepared, having signed a deal with the Shanghai Branch of the Ping An Insurance Corporation.

In July 2002, China’s Everbright Bank linked up with the Dongfeng Liuzhou Motor Corporation to launch a new auto sales and finance service. The bank provides comprehensive financial services including finance, clearing, consumer credit, account management and financial advice. The Shenlong Motor Holding Corporation and the Shanghai Cherry Motor Corporation have also entered into similar cooperative relationships.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Shanghai branch) sponsored the founding of the “Auto Finance Service Network Association” early in 2002. The association has recruited around 100 members drawn from the ranks of the auto distributors, insurance companies, auction companies, second-hand auto sales companies and auto renting and leasing companies. It embraces just about every possible link in the auto financing chain.

China’s Construction Bank has set up auto financing service subsidiaries in Beijing and Shanghai to provide personal loans for car purchase. The Bank of China’s Shanghai Branch is busy preparing to set up its own auto financing service center.

Zhou Liqun, program director of the National Auto Consumers Policy Research Project, predicts that as China further opens up the auto finance market, dedicated auto finance companies will come to play a leading role in the auto market.

(China.org.cn by Alex Xu, February 8, 2003)

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