The rising influence of China in Latin America

While most US-based OEMs sideline the middle-income markets in Latin America, China has found a lucrative niche

David Oakley, Analyst, Americas Vehicle Sales Forecasts

15 October 2021

In a previous blog, we examined how OEMs, especially those based in the US, are focused on products that suit the US market, while the preferences of consumers in other countries that have traditionally received similar models, such as Mexico, are side-lined. However, there is one country that is willing to supply vehicles to meet the needs of middle-income markets in Latin America, namely China.

Over recent months, we have seen further developments to confirm the trends that were already in motion. In August, GM announced the discontinuation of the Chevrolet Equinox, Spark and Beat in Mexico, while Chinese brand Changan will shortly arrive in the same market. Several South American countries, including Chile and Argentina, also feature a variety of Chinese-built models. Some 41 different China-sourced models have been sold in Argentina in 2021, while in Chile, the count is a staggering 91 separate models.

To be clear, there is no imminent prospect of Chinese OEMs coming to dominate markets in the Americas. With some notable exceptions, the models involved generate low volumes, and in some cases, the vehicles are manufactured in China, but are then rebadged under the auspices of Western brands. The new Dodge Journey, which is due to arrive in Mexican showrooms shortly, is known as the GAC GS5 in China, but is set to become Dodge’s bestselling vehicle in Mexico in the coming years. This is not a particularly novel idea; GM has pursued a similar strategy with the Chevrolet Captiva and the soon-to-be-released Groove, the rebadged versions of the Baojun 530 and 510, respectively. 

Despite the fact that Cars are still a more popular choice than SUVs in most Latin American nations, many of the Chinese products being brought to the region are SUVs. Therefore, the distinguishing feature for these models is not necessarily the body type but the price. For example, MG – owned by the Chinese manufacturer SAIC – has seen great success in Chile with its ZS SUV, where it is set to be the bestselling Light Vehicle this year. The ZS starts at ₱10.89 million, excluding discounts (US$13,350), a price that undercuts those of many hatchbacks and sedans from Western OEMs (for instance, the Volkswagen Polo starts at ₱11.59 million before incentives). The Volkswagen T-Cross Small SUV, which resides in the same segment as the MG ZS, is around 32% more expensive than the Chinese model.

Of course, the picture is not uniform across Latin America. Countries with large automotive manufacturing industries, such as Brazil, will likely have a smaller Chinese influence for the time being, although even here, Chery is among the ten leading OEMs, thanks to its local production. Similarly, Great Wall recently announced its purchase of a former Daimler plant in Iracemápolis, Brazil, with production expected to start in 2023. Ford’s withdrawal from Brazilian production has provided further opportunities for other OEMs to fill the void, and although it is difficult to predict the specifics of which manufacturers will decide to launch in the region and when, we can be sure that Chinese OEMs will be alert to any openings.