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More on China's growth & autos

From the WSJ ($), we find some interesting figures on car sales in China:

Total sales grew 36% last year to about 4.5 million vehicles -- still steamy, but down from an estimated 80% growth pace in 2002. ... The frenzied auto buying reflects monumental change unfolding in China's cities. The average resident earns a little more than $1,000 a year, but the country is quickly developing an upper class that splashes out for Mercedes or BMWs and a middle class able to save for a VW Santana under $10,000. ... Altogether, auto makers are planning to boost capacity in China to about seven million passenger cars a year by 2009.

Much of the article is brow-furrowing commentary on the possibility that automakers are over-investing in capacity in China, and the attempts of China to "cool its overheated" economy. But the long run direction seems pretty clear - dramatic change is taking place.

To put these figures in perspective, US auto sales are currently running at an annual rate of 17.8 million units, according to this BBC story. But many of these are replacement vehicles; virtually all of the new cars sold in China are surely new additions to the stock of cars. There's no reason to panic, but I wouldn't mind sitting on an oil well or two right now.

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