Spotlight on the Chinese Alloy Wheel Market

To some of his competitors Derek Zhang is known as the “godfather” of the aluminium wheel business in China. He has been dubbed with this moniker in appreciation of the rapid development of the China Wheel, which he leads as CEO, and his deep knowledge of the competitive situation in the enormous People’s Republic.

At the moment there are about 200(!) different producers in the country. Some are so small that they are liable to disappear from the map, or have already been forced to cut production. Zhang expects a large consolidation wave, whereby the capacities of the smaller companies are taken only partially from the market; many will be absorbed by the larger players.

Total Chinese production capacity is somewhere around 15 million units annually. However it must be pointed out that many factories are not running at maximum capacity and not even thinking of 24-hour production, six or seven days a week. Instead most produce to order. In 2005 about 13.8 million wheels are likely to have been manufactured, something that suggests that the better companies are producing at or near capacity.
The two largest groups of customers are the domestic car manufacturers and the export markets with a dominant share destined for the US where almost every second alloy wheel originates from Chinese production sources.

Japan and Taiwan are also main destinations, predominantly small-dimensioned wheels. In Europe Germany receives a significant proportion (including brands like Autec, DBV etc.); the larger manufacturers (Borbet, ATS etc) have also at least tried to test China as source of supply.

The international original equipment manufacturers are also sourcing their casted aluminium wheels from China (Audi/Germany, General Motors/USA etc), even if this is on a relatively small scale at the moment. The Chinese aftermarket is relatively small too, although precipitous growth in the next years is predicted.

Cars from the first wave of automobilisation in the 90s may be getting on in years, but many owners still invest in wheels because their cars are too valuable to take off the roads. A word of warning. The quality of aftermarket wheels in China today is very poor. Whether Chinese production will develop dynamically as a source for the international OEMs, is a question that is disputed by the suppliers and their customers, the manufacturers.

The clear number one in the People’s Republic of China is Dicastal Wheel (Qinhuangdao, Hebei province). This company – like others – profits from the fact that, with more or less gentle pressure from its OE customers, it gets technological help from western wheel manufacturers (in this case Speedline). The resultant products are mainly aimed at the domestic automakers FAW/VW, FAW/Audi, FAW/Toyota, Shanghai/GM, Shanghai/VW, Guangzhou/Honda and Guangzhou/Nissan, in addition to OE business for German and American car manufacturers.

Each year Dicastal manufactures about 3.5 million casted wheels. In the last couple of years the company added a forging capability and the company and now has the capacity to output 30,000 forged wheels a month, but at the moment only 30 per cent of capacity is used. Due to its strong anchorage in the OE business the enterprise is already very near to the western standards that car manufacturers expect. In the aftermarket business however, Dicastal has little experience and therefore there is a deficit when recognising the needs of end users whether in Japan, the USA or in Europe. Dicastal remains a state enterprise and is part of a conglomerate of 8,000 companies named CITIC Holdings with more than a million employees.

The joint-second largest Chinese manufacturer (shared with China Wheel, see separate article elsewhere in this report) is Kunshan Liufeng Machinery in Jiangsu province. Kunsham Liufeng is a 100 per cent investment of a Taiwanese wheel manufacturer (also known as Lioho), which was founded in 1996. The group outputs 4.5 million wheels annually, its People’s Republic and Taiwan-based production combined.

This wheel manufacturer also managed to negotiate western support, this time from ATS, in order to Liufeng up to speed on western OE demands. Liufeng is already respected as an original equipment manufacturer in the domestic market and in some international markets (at the moment this is mainly the US, but the company is already in Europe).
General Motors, Toyota, Shanghai/GM, Shanghai/VW and Guangzhou/Nissan are all mentioned as OE customers. In terms of aftermarket sales the company is respected as a manufacturer of wheels in the Japanese and European markets.

Next there is Wanfeng Auto Holding Group in Zhejiang, which has an annual capacity of approximately 2 million casted wheels. Of these, 60 per cent are delivered to the domestic OE business and the rest are exported to Japan and the US (for the aftermarket). When the company was founded in 1992 it only produced wheels for motorcycles. In 1995 passenger car wheel production was added. Wanfeng was probably the first company to provide low-cost alloy wheels into the market.

In a slight deviation from its strategy up till now BSS has entered into a joint venture enterprise in China – Binzhou Movever BBS Wheel Co (Shandong province) – in order to increase its share of the volume market. For the Chinese though, high output is the dream – and this means annual output of 7 million pieces, making it the largest aluminium casting wheel plant in the world. For its part BBS is less extravagant in its goal setting, particularly because up-till-now capacity has totalled approximately 1 million units per annum. Producing seven times as much is some way off.

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