12 Sep 23

How China leads the world in commercial-vehicle exports

For China, the pandemic-induced global slump in commercial-vehicle manufacturing and exports was an opportunity not to be missed. With the domestic automotive industry rebounding quickly thanks to government incentives, Chinese manufacturers filled the gap. 

This was helped by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Launched in 2013 as a global infrastructure development initiative, it helped Chinese manufacturers push commercial-vehicle sales into various other countries.

As a result, exports in 2023 were heavily boosted by tractor-trailers, along with trucks, dominating the Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, African and South American markets with over 70% market share for Chinese manufacturers, says SPGlobal. 

In the first half of 2023, Chinese-manufactured commercial-vehicle exports increased nearly 25% compared to the same period last year, totalling around 400,000 units and generating 77 billion yuan (€10 billion). 

In July this year, diesel-powered commercial vehicles represented 77.3% of total commercial-vehicle exports from China, with 51,000 units. The export of petrol-fuelled commercial vehicles declined by 12.9% year on year, while the export of alternative-energy powertrains showed a striking 154.2% increase.

Truck exports

In 2022, China exported 128,000 pickup trucks, up 65% compared to 2021 and representing 25% of China’s total pickup sales last year. According to figures from the China Passenger Car Association, the surge continued in 2023, with January sales up 70% year on year, to 10,000 units.  

In the first half of 2023, truck sales in China totalled 305,000 units, a 26% increase versus the same period last year, says Interactanalysis. The largest segment are light-duty trucks, followed by heavy-duty trucks and towing vehicles. Medium-duty trucks declined by 17% year-on-year.

Also in the first half of this year, diesel-powered commercial vehicles sold over 250,000 units, up 37% year on year. Diesel vehicles represented 75% of total commercial vehicle exports in H1 2023, and half of heavy-duty truck and towing vehicle exports. 

Export of commercial vehicles in H1 2023 (Interactanalysis.com):

Target country     Exported Units (thousands) Share
Russia 70,7 21.3%
Mexico 32,7  9.8%
Vietnam 15,5  4.7%
Chile 14,2  4.3%
Australia 13,5 4.1%
Saudi Arabia 12,0 3.6%
Peru 10,7 3.2%
Philippines 10,7 3.1%
Uzbekistan 9,6 2.9%
Ecuador 9,1 2.7%

The substantial increase in both local sales and exports is fuelled by China’s robust truck manufacturing industry, which SPGlobal forecasts will produce around 915,000 units of medium- and heavy-duty trucks in 2023, which would be a 26% year-on-year increase. Data from Volza indicates there are no less than 22,000 truck exporters in China, supplying more than 30,000 buyers worldwide. 

This puts China firmly in the global top five of truck-exporting countries (the other four are Mexico, the U.S., Japan, and Germany). Just among them, these five generated 52.9% of the global revenue earned from truck exports in 2022, says WorldstopExports. 

Top destinations

In recent years, Russia and Mexico have become the top destinations for China’s commercial-vehicle exports (see graph above). 

Russia, embargoed by the West following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, increasingly trades with China to make up the difference. As a result, Russia is now firmly in first place when it comes to China’s commercial-vehicle exports, which increased sixfold from 2021 to 2022 (with trucks accounting for 96% of sales). And the increase continues. In the first four months of 2023, China sold 34,000 medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles to Russia, nearly equalling its total sales in 2022. In July of this year alone, Russia absorbed 51.3% of China’s total commercial-vehicle exports. 

As a bridge between the North American and Latin American markets, Mexico is a strategic location for global automakers, an increasingly important hub for the global EV industry, and an expanding market for commercial vehicle exports. In the first half of 2023, Mexico’s imports of Chinese commercial vehicles increased 94% year on year. According to Interactanalysis, As does Russia, Mexico mainly imports light-duty commercial vehicles from China (95.8% of last July’s total, for example). In fact, Mexico topped the list of China’s light-duty commercial vehicle export destinations in July. From January to July 2023, Mexico generated 3.6 billion yuan (€460 million) in revenue for the Chinese commercial-vehicle industry, making it that industry’s third most profitable market worldwide. 

China’s commercial-vehicle exports can be volatile, both up and down. Uzbekistan jumped up into 9th position in 2023, but exports to Vietnam shrank by 63% in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period previous year. Overall, though, growth is steady, and China expects commercial-vehicle exports to reach 20% of total commercial-vehicle sales by 2024.

Spearheaded by NEVs

The overall surge in Chinese automotive exports, it should be noted, is spearheaded by so-called new energy vehicles (NEVs), a category which comprises battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). NEVs outperformed other vehicle categories in China’s global export boost. 

According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), Chinese vehicle exports hit 3.11 million units in 2022, a 54.4% year-on-year increase, making China the world’s second-largest vehicle-exporting country, after Japan. Here’s a breakdown of last year’s exports:

  • 2.53 million passenger cars (+56.7% yoy)
  • 582,000 commercial vehicles (+44.9% yoy)
  • Of that total, there were 679,000 NEVs (+120% yoy)

Top 10 Export Brands in China in 2022 (CarNewsChina):

SAIC 906,000 units
Chery Automobile 452,000 units
Tesla China 271,000 units
Changan Auto 249,000 units
Dongfeng Motor Corporation 242,000 units
Geely Holding Group 198,000 units
Great Wall Motors 173,000 units
JAC Group 115,000 units 
BAIC 110,000 units 
Sinotruk (CNHTC) 83,000 units

The ten brands in the graph above represent 2.8 million units of total vehicle exports in 2022, giving them a market share of 90%. 

CAAM predicts that by the end of 2023, total vehicle sales by China-based manufacturers will reach 27.6 million units, which is an annual increase of 3%, and that NEV sales will reach 9 million units, representing a yearly increase of 35%. 

China overtakes Japan

The increased expertise in and production of NEVs, which was pioneered by BYD, is helping China reach new global markets. According to the General Administration of Customs China, the UAE and Mexico were the top importers of Chinese vehicles, showing a 270% and 160% increase in the first 11 months of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021. Belgium, the UK and the Philippines were the top importers of Chinese NEVs. 

The boom of China-produced NEVs continues in 2023. Total sales reached 3.65 million in the first half of 2023, a 48% year-on-year increase, representing over 60% of the global NEV market. 

The increase in NEV exports, especially in the ASEAN region, crowned China as the top vehicle exporter in the first half of 2023, with 1.07 million sales, leaving Japan behind, which managed only 950,000 vehicle sales.

The main image shows Chinese truck and bus manufacturer Foton's Auman dump truck, courtesy of Shutterstock (2279579247).

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen