Automotive sector, between crisis and future challenges



Let us start with some numbers: 91.5 million motor vehicles were sold in 2019 (-4.5% on 2018), more than 4.3 million less than in 2018, of which 3.7 million in Asian countries

Paolo Castiglia

Let us start with some numbers: 91.5 million motor vehicles were sold in 2019 (-4.5% on 2018), more than 4.3 million less than in 2018, of which 3.7 million in Asian countries. The global sales trend was marked mainly by declines in China, -8.1%, which followed the -3% already recorded in 2018, and in India (-13.3%). In 2020, global demand is expected to be around 76 million vehicles, which represents a 17% collapse. These are figures recently presented in an in-depth analysis, entitled "The global automotive industry in 2019 and expected 2020 trends", carried out by Anfia's Studies and Statistics Area, which contained also an in-depth study of economic-political scenarios and the achievements of the automotive industry in 2019 at different levels, global, macro-areas and Italy as well as the outlook for 2020. According to the study, the global economic growth in 2019 was rather slow, +2.8%, the lowest since 2009, a trend that started already in the second half of 2018, which closed with a +3.5%, after a peak of +3.8% in 2017. The fourth quarter of 2019 showed signs of stabilisation: business confidence ceased to deteriorate, although the overall sentiment remains negative. However, things took a turn for the worst early in 2020 as the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in health, economic and social crisis.

But now, let us look back at the last few years. World vehicle production scored a record 98 million units sold in 2017. In 2018, there was a first decline of about 1%, followed by a -5.2% in 2019. In the first six months of 2020, production losses, due to the pandemic, in the main production macro-areas amounted to more than 11 million units which corresponds to a -15% of total production in the same areas considered in 2019. The automotive sector may need a rather long time to recover from the recession caused by spread of the virus even when compared to previous negative years, and analysts estimate a period of between 3 to 5 years.

However, the serious economic crisis in the sector is also highlighted - on the basis of registration data provided by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport - by the Study and Statistics Centre of Unrae, the association of foreign manufacturers, which produced an estimate for trailers and semi-trailers with a total mass of more than 3.5 tonnes, which in September 2020 showed an increase in registrations of 21.4% compared to September 2019 (850 units compared to 700).  This trend brings the consolidated figure for the first nine months of the year to -28.6% compared to the same period in 2019, with 7,920 units sold compared to 11,093.

“There are some encouraging signs too - comments Paolo A. Starace, Unrae's industrial vehicles section chairman - because towed vehicles are an essential component of road transport: if we exclude last mile deliveries and distribution, carried out with isolated vehicles, medium and long distance haulage is almost exclusively carried out by 18-wheelers, in view of their greater flexibility of use". The most attentive observers may have noticed that the future challenge for manufacturers of transport vehicles, whether for general groupage or specific transport under controlled temperatures or even hazardous materials, seems to be the ability to offer "intelligent" products, able to guarantee not only maximum safety and sustainability, but also the best integration with the towing vehicle in order to contribute to reducing consumption and running costs.

Generally speaking, it must be said that if we look at the number of applications submitted for the subsidies provided by the decrees in force (2020), we can see that, among the various categories of vehicles eligible for subsidies, trailers have the lowest number of applications submitted, in proportion to the resources available.  Bearing in mind that only trailers and semi-trailers equipped for intermodal transport are eligible, it seems logical to ask whether this is not a sign of a certain saturation of that market.

An Unrae note goes on to say: "We cannot stop reiterating the need to provide adequate funding for trailers intended solely for road use, given that the average age of the circulating fleet is a high risk factor for transport and traffic safety, creating incentive measures with strict regulations to control imports of second-hand vehicles from abroad and regular roadworthy inspections which need to be more stringent and performed also by private companies".