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Suzuki gains on India amid China exit

By BLOOMBERG

TOKYO • Shares of Suzuki Motor Corp advanced after the Japanese carmaker said it’s exiting China, abandoning a market where it struggled to gain traction and allowing to focus on its stronghold, India.

The departure highlights the cutthroat nature of the Chinese market, where quick changes in customer tastes can leave carmakers exposed.

Suzuki’s lineup of mainly smaller cars became less competitive after consumers in the world’s biggest auto market shifted purchases to larger sedans and SUVs amid rising incomes.

While an admission of defeat, the move paves the way for a sharpened focus on India, a market Suzuki dominates and where it aims to roughly triple sales to five million vehicles annually by 2030.

The exit also allows Suzuki to avoid spending on development of new vehicles to meet China’s tightening environmental regulations, analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc said in a note yesterday.

“We see strategic merit in Suzuki’s accelerated moves to narrow its business focus to core areas,” Goldman analysts led by Kota Yuzawa said in the note, reiterating their ‘Buy’ rating on the stock.

Shares of Suzuki advanced 1.7% as of the lunch-time trading break in Tokyo. They have added 13% this year.

The Japanese mini-car specialist announced on Tuesday it was dissolving its last remaining Chinese joint venture, transferring its 50% stake in Changan Suzuki Automobile Co Ltd to Chongqing Changan Automobile Co Ltd as soon as legal proceedings are completed. It cancelled its other Chinese partnership in June.

In a sign of the pressures facing carmakers in China, Changan Suzuki was included in a public list of 30 companies licenced to manufacture so-called new-energy vehicles (NEVs) that haven’t produced any units in the past 12 months or more. Strict quotas on NEVs — which include pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids — come into force in China from next year, toward a goal of having them make up a fifth of new car sales by 2025.

By contrast, although India has set a goal to have more than 30% of vehicles running on electricity by 2030, it doesn’t yet have a policy road map for how to get there and the country’s infrastructure is far from being ready to support such a fleet.

Whereas its Indian arm Maruti Suzuki has its name on about one of every two cars sold on the subcontinent, Changan Suzuki had seen its market share falling below 0.4% in China last year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence data. Even the addition of SUVs to the Chinese lineup couldn’t temper the decline.

The Suzuki name isn’t vanishing from China entirely — partner Chongqing Changan will continue to make and sell vehicles with that brand in the country. That could make a potential return for the Japanese company easier in the future.