The Year’s Results
Automotive companies have drawn up preliminary results for the previous year. As per information available in mid-January, around 15,558 brand new automobiles were imported into Kazakhstan in 2005. Of this total, about 12,918 of these cars were imported by official automotive dealerships. Over the last three years, the sales volume of authorized automotive dealers increased by 6.5 times. Traditionally, Toyota holds the leading position in our market. In the top three makes are also included Daewoo (particularly from the UzDaewoo assembly plant in Uzbekistan) and Niva (a Russo-American joint venture, Chevrolet Niva). In general, consumers in Kazakhstan prefer cars from Asian producers to European ones. As regards to imports, automobiles from Japan and Korea maintain a dominant position.
Prices for New Cars Will Drop
Overall, in characterizing the dynamics of development in the domestic auto market, one may state that it is quantitatively growing, but not qualitatively changing. Government regulation of the market plays a significant role, and to be more exact, the lack of such regulation is playing a significant role. Over the last few years, hardly a change has occurred in the ratio between the new and resale markets. The number of new cars is still five times lower than used ones. And, those dealers not operating within the manufacturers’ official framework are working right alongside the authorized dealerships. Interesting is the fact that the latter, despite all efforts made, have never been able to lobby for an increase in the tariffs applied to the import of secondhand cars, or really any other preferences inserted into the customs regime for authorized dealers. Though the largest of these companies, along with their clients, yield great influence, giving them the possibility to lobby their interests with the government and in Parliament. Even the development of domestic assembly of automobiles in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, has not forced the government to take measures for the protection of the market from the mass import of used cars. Whose interests lay on the other side of the scales, those of the mass consumer or of the importers of such vehicles? The question itself is rhetorical.
The preferences of Kazakhstani consumers have remained practically unchanged. Among new cars, the most expensive brands are still the most popular. Four-wheel drive vehicles lead the pack. The mass-market brands that are in high demand abroad, and even in Russia, are not so successful here. The domestic middleclass prefer used, but higher end, automobiles over new economy makes. In comparison, a new Hyundai sells for the same price as a used Mercedes, and the consumer’s heart chooses the latter. No brilliant marketing schemes, promotional campaigns, or additional services provided by authorized automotive dealers can yet compete with the attractiveness of a cheap automobile flea market. Moreover, at present one can receive credit for the purchase of either a new or used car. Such loans are one of the most powerful stimuli for the development of this market.
In 2005, the Kazakhstani market for new automobiles witnessed an event that went almost unnoticed by consumers, but significantly affected two of the top three largest three dealers, the Toyota Zhetisu Auto Center and Astana Motors. As long as the sales volume remained below one or two thousand units per year, the Japanese producer, Toyota, had little interest in this market. However, when sales climbed to over 3,000 units, Toyota finally began to pay attention to Kazakhstan, becoming concerned with all the available value-added services associated with its brand on this market. To this end, the manufacturer began instructing its Russian distributor, Toyota Motor Russia, to supervise the sales process in Kazakhstan (as per official information, Toyota names a distributor only when market volume exceeds 10,000 units per year, and then considers building an assembly plant only when sales of its vehicles exceed 50,000).
One should note that the two above-mentioned local dealerships had, until June 2005, the status of Toyota authorized service centers, including the right to provide guarantee service for the company’s vehicles. At present, they have been named official dealers under Toyota Motor Russia. What does this change in status imply for the market and for customers? If we speak about plusses, one of the first would be a price decrease of around 10% to the dealer. As well, our dealers are to receive advertising, marketing and service support from Moscow. However, there are also negative aspects to this change in status.
Despite the fact that the Russian and Kazakhstani automobile markets have many common characteristics (thus the reason why the Kazakhstan market has been folded into that of Russia), the two no longer remain twin brothers. Over the past few years in both countries, different consumer preferences have developed. Buyers favor different models. This difference is not taken into account in Moscow during their interaction with Kazakhstani dealers. For instance, the fact that in Russia a regular deficit of new Toyota models exists is well known, and consumers there are ready to make prepayment and await delivery of their vehicle for a couple of months up to one year. Dealers working outside the official system, as well as on the secondary market, have met with unfavorable conditions, and therefore do not constitute strong competition for the authorized dealers, such as exists in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstani consumer in contrast to his Russian counterpart has the possibility to purchase the same model of Toyota immediately, and at a lower price, from an unauthorized dealer, or even on the used car market, and has not the same level of patience. Nevertheless, the Russian party suggests that the Kazakhstani dealers play by its rules.
Dmitry Lipich, director of the Marketing Department of Astana Motors, says, “Toyota Motor Russia has offered that we operate in accordance with the following plan. A client should prepay for a car. We order the desired model. As we have no expenses associated with maintaining stock on hand, the cost of the sale decreases. However, at this time we have a situation, in which we have unpopular models in stock. A deficit exists for those cars that we need, particularly the four-wheel drive vehicles, which are extremely popular here in Kazakhstan. Nobody who has an available US$70 thousand will wait six months for the delivery of his car. This is the reason or the current decrease in sales growth.”
Not only competition from the secondary market and dealers working outside the system are to blame for the situation, but also the mindset of the Kazakhstani consumer stops him from buying a car without seeing it first. Even being quite familiar with the desired model, a domestic buyer still prefers still prefers to “touch” the car before laying down money. Having a desire to purchase a Landcruiser, and being unable to find it in an automotive showroom, a local would buy a similar car from another producer – a Nissan Patrol, for example – rather than await delivery.
The situation around Toyota is worth one’s attention for two reasons. First of all, this brand is the sales leader in Kazakhstan, with around a 40% share of the domestic market of new vehicles. Second, many large Japanese producers are ready to follow Toyota’s lead in Kazakhstan, which is to say, either to directly represent their own interests in the country, or via a nearby regional office. If such is true, the picture of the market will significantly change over the next one or two years. The prices on new cars will decrease at authorized automotive dealerships, the volume of advertising by the industry will increase, aftermarket service will improve, and possibly consumer preferences will reorient due to changes in the sales system. At the same time, the per-unit profitability of authorized sellers will decrease. By taking over some of the associated expenses, such as for advertising, personnel training and so forth, Toyota will significantly decrease the size of the recommended margins for Kazakhstani dealers.
Between Russia and China
For comparative purposes, it is interesting to note how the largest neighboring markets of Russia and China are developing.
In speaking about our northern neighbor, one should note that more than 1.6 mln cars, amounting to around US$20 bln, were sold in 2005 in accordance with preliminary data. Out of this total, 1.283 mln were passenger cars, as per statistics cited in the industry reference book, Automobile Market of Russia 2005. At the same time, three quarters of sales in the new car market were for those priced at less than US$10 thousand. Although, the low-cost segment still remains the largest in Russia, its share of total sales volume is gradually decreasing (from 90% in 2002, down to 74% in 2005). The fastest growing segment is for foreign makes costing from US$15-20 thousand. And, the demand for those priced above US$30 thousand is also increasing.
Russian assembly plants produce vehicles from Ford, Renault, Kia, BMW, Chevrolet, and Honda. The launch of Toyota and Opel production is expected. By 2008, from ten to fifteen assembly plants, producing some 500,000 cars per year, will be operating on the territory of Russia. Overall, the sales potential of the Russian market is expected to increase to about 1.8 or 1.9 mln automobiles per year over the next three years. The import regime for used cars into Russia is constantly becoming more stringent, and this process is most likely to continue. This is why the underdeveloped segment for imported secondhand vehicles into Russia will gradually decrease, and sales growth will be driven mostly by inexpensive foreign makes assembled in the country.
However, one more factor exists for potential growth of the Russian market, which is the delivery of cheap automobiles of Chinese production. Russian analysts predict that in 2006, about 20 or 30 thousand cars manufactured in China will find their way onto the Russian market. And, by 2008 this figure is expected to jump up to 100 or 150 thousand units. As per information from RBK, a business news agency, to the misfortune of Russian automotive producers, in 2006 three Chinese plants will open in Russia.
In 2004, China produced around 5 mln cars, including foreign makes assembled in the country, and holds the fourth place globally, after the U.S., Japan, and Germany. However, by 2020 the country promises to inundate the whole world with cheap vehicles, including passenger cars of international marks that have been assembled in China, and take first place in production volume. This is quite possible if we consider the fact that almost every automotive producer has its own plant in China.
In Kazakhstan, where new car buyers have a taste for expensive models from well-known makers, no enthusiasm exists for the automobile industry of China. To be more exact, this disinterest relates not to all cars produced there, such as those from global manufacturers, but is instead directed at Chinese makes themselves (as a rule, international makes are produced under license to meet international quality standards). As per the estimates of our experts, Chinese cars are comparable with Russian ones as regards quality, though the latter will remain preferable. However, if we speak about commercial vehicles, Chinese makes have already started to displace Russian-made light trucks, such as the Gazelle and PAZ, on Kazakhstani roads due to the cheapness and simplicity of their maintenance. One can assume that in the immediate future, passenger cars with difficult to pronounce names will compete in that segment of the market currently dominated by models from Avtovaz.
Interest is the fact that in 2004, passenger car sales volume in the Chinese domestic market totaled a mere 2.5 mln units, which is 1.5 times that of Russia, which is around five times lower than China. This means that the potential of the Chinese automobile market is not so big as one might expect, and production growth in the industry will be first of all dedicated for export, not for domestic consumption. New Chinese makes are currently exhibited at all automotive shows worldwide. Having started with city buses, the Chinese began to actively promote their passenger and four-wheel drive vehicles. Official distributors of Chinese manufacturers operate in many countries, including in Russia, though to be honest most sales are in the far east of the country and in Siberia. According to estimates from specialists at many automobile companies, this wave will reach Kazakhstan over the next several years, as now the fact that Kazakhstani consumers have the habit of buying either cheap Russian cars or expensive foreign makes must be considered. However, nobody doubts that the Chinese will finally reach our market.