The Real Story Behind India’s Two Wheeler Sales or Rather the Lack of It

Two wheeler sales are a widely used economic indicator. They give us a good indication of the prevailing spending capacity of the middle class. To put it in simpler words, is the middle class in the mood to borrow and spend money or simply spend money (given that everyone doesn’t take a loan to buy a two-wheeler).

In the last few months, several economists, analysts, journalists, politicians and many Twitter warriors, have cited robust domestic two wheeler sales data to tell us lesser mortals that the economy is well on its way to revival.
But is that really the case?

Two wheeler sales data are reported in two ways. The industry body Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) publishes sales data every month. The Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA) also publishes this data every month.

The manufacturers produce the two wheelers and the dealers sell them to the end consumers.

Let’s take a look at the following graph which basically plots domestic sales of two wheelers as reported by SIAM and FADA, for this financial year.

What’s that GAP?

Source: SIAM and FADA.

As can be seen from the chart, there is a wide difference in sales as reported by SIAM and as reported by FADA (The blue bar is bigger than the orange bar throughout). Why is this the case? Let’s look at this pointwise.

1) The only month where SIAM and FADA reported same sales was in April, when the economy was under a lockdown, and the two wheeler sales reported by both the bodies was zero.

2) While both the bodies report sales, what they report are totally different numbers. SIAM reports the number of units of two-wheelers leaving the gates of manufacturers or factory gate shipments. In simpler words, these are units which have been sold by manufacturers to dealers across the country, who in turn will sell to the end consumers.

In turn, FADA reports the number of units of two wheelers registered at the Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) across the country after they have been sold to the end consumer. Hence, the sales number reported by FADA is a better representation of sales to end consumers.

3) As can be seen from the chart, in every month from May to October, two wheeler sales as reported by SIAM were more than that reported by FADA. As per SIAM a total of 8.04 million units of two-wheelers were sold during the period April to October 2020, or the first seven months of this financial year. This is around 29.8% lower than sales reported by SIAM during the same period last year. Clearly, year on year sales are down even as per SIAM data.

4) As per FADA, the two wheeler sales during the period April to October stood at 4.78 million units, which is 3.26 million units or 40.5% lower than the number reported by SIAM. Cleary, there is a huge difference between the two numbers. One reason for this lies in the fact that the FADA data still does not capture registrations made at RTOs all offices across the country. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, are not hooked on to the Vahan 4 system from which FADA draws its data.

This explains a part of the discrepancy but it’s still not good enough to explain the difference of 3.26 million units in the data  between SIAM and FADA.  The difference was more than a million units in October.

5) Why is the difference so huge? What SIAM is counting as sales is essentially inventory getting built up at their dealer level, something that the FADA data does not capture. This explains a bulk of the difference. A good proportion of the two wheeler units which have been sent from manufacturers to the dealers have not been sold to the end consumer.

Companies have been building up inventory with dealers across the country in the hope of good festival season sales. Also, the new Bharat Stage VI emission norms came into force from April 1. This meant that the inventory of two-wheelers at the dealer level had to be built all over again.

In fact, in its October press release, FADA pointed out that the inventory at the dealer level was at its highest in this financial year and it may impact the financial health of the dealers. In September, FADA had pointed out: “Inventory for two wheelers stands at 45-50 days”. It has only gone up since then.

6) Has this strategy of companies piling up inventory at dealer level in the hope of festive season sales worked? The answer to this question will become clearer once we get the November data from both SIAM and FADA, early next month.

Hero Motorcorp has put out a press release saying it has had a good festival season.  As the company points out:

“Despite the severe disruptions on account of the Covid-19 this year, the good retail off-take during the 32-day festival period – spread between the first day of Navratra and the concluding day after Bhai Duj – was 98% of the festive season volumes sold by the Company in the previous year (2019) and 103% compared to the same period in 2018.”

The question is does this apply to the sector as a whole or has Hero Motorcorp simply been gaining market share? The festival season this year was from around the middle of October to the middle of November. The October data as we have already seen hasn’t really been inspiring on the end consumer sales front with a gap of more than a million units in the sales data as reported by SIAM and FADA.

To conclude, two wheeler sales this year have been weak. As we have already seen, they are down 29.8% year on year, as per SIAM. As per FADA, they are down close to 40.3% year on year. This is the real picture of two-wheeler sales in the country and not the one several economists, analysts, journalists, politicians and many Twitter warriors, have been citing to us lesser mortals.

Of course, things may have improved a tad in November due to the Diwali festival. But will that be good enough to pull the industry out of the mess that it currently is in? I have my doubts about that. Also, in the months to come, the pent up demand will get exhausted. Further, one reason people are buying two wheelers these days is to avoid travelling by public transport. This is likely to have played out by the end of the year.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Meanwhile, it is safe to say that a large part of the great Indian middle class isn’t really in the mood to spend currently like they did in the past.

Why car sales did not rise and actually fell in August

carVivek Kaul
Statistics are like bikinis” said Aaron Levenstein. “What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” Levenstein was an American professor of business administration who died in 1986.
In simple English, statistics never reveal the complete story and can lead to wrong inferences being made. Take the case of domestic passenger car sales number for August 2013. Media has gone to town highlighting the fact that car sales have risen by 15.4% in August 2013, in comparison to August 2012. Also, car sales have risen first time in ten months is another point that has been made. This has been used to infer that the Indian economy is looking up again and the consumer demand is coming back to the market. The situation is far from that.
Let’s look at the numbers. In August 2013, car sales stood at 1,33,486 units. This was 15.4% higher than 1,15,705 units sold in August 2012. So far so good.
This substantial jump in sales came because Maruti Suzuki managed to sell 76,018 units in August 2013. In comparison, it had sold only 50,129 units in August 2012. This 51.6% jump in sales of Maruti cars, helped the overall car sales jump by 15.4% in August 2013. What analysts call the base effect was at work.
The question to ask here is why did Maruti see a more than 50% jump in sales in August 2013 in comparison to August 2012? Smaller car manufacturers can see that sort of a jump in sales. But for the country’s biggest car manufacturer to see a 50% jump in sales under normal conditions, is almost impossible.
The answer lies in the fact that in August 2012 there was a lockout at the Manesar plant of Maruti, after labour troubles and this in turn affected the production of Maruti cars. So Maruti sold fewer cars in August 2012 not due to lower demand, but because it could not produce enough cars to meet the demand. And given that things in August 2013, have just got back to normal for the company.
Lets look at car sales in August 2011. During that month Maruti had managed to sell 77,086 units in the domestic market. Let’s assume that there had been no lockout at the Manesar plant of Maruti in August 2012, and the company had managed to sell 77,086 units during the month, like it had a year earlier in August,2011. In that case, it would have sold 26,957 units (77,086 – 50,129) extra, in comparison to the 50,129 units that it actually sold.
The overall car sales for August 2012 would have stood at 1,42,662 units (1,15,705 + 26,957) in comparison to the actual sales of 1,15,705 units. And this is the right number to use while comparing sales of August 2012 with that of August 2013, in order to adjust for the lockout at Maruti’s Manesar plant.
Hence, the overall car sales should have stood at 1,42,662 units in August 2012. Given this, the car sales for August 2013 are actually down by 9176 units (1,42,662 – 1,33,486) or 6.4%. This is something that is reflected in what Sugato Sen, the Deputy Director General of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, told reporters yesterday “This (growth) is not a reflection of the market conditions. This is mainly due to Maruti’s numbers compared to last year. The tough market conditions still remain. Interest rates are high, fuel prices continue to be high while sentiments are extremely low.”
Car sales in India have slowed down for 10 consecutive months. And what that basically tells us is that people who can buy cars are worried about their economic prospects, and hence, are postponing their purchases. Floyd Norris writing in
The New York Times explains it best: “New-car sales can be a particularly sensitive economic indicator because few people really need to buy a new car, and thus tend not to do so when they feel uncertain about their economic prospects. Even if a car purchase can no longer be delayed, a used car is an alternative.”
Postponing the purchase of a car obviously has an impact on the car company. But it also has an impact on a host of other companies. As T N Ninan wrote in 
a brilliant column in Business Standard in January 2013 “The car industry is a key economic marker, because of its unmatched backward linkages – to component manufacturers, tyre companies, steel producers, battery makers, glass manufacturers, paint companies, and so on – and forward linkages to energy demand, sales and servicing outlets, et al.”
Car sales, unlike a lot of other numbers like inflation, GDP growth, which reflect the state of the economy, is not a theoretical construct. It is a real number. And if it is falling, what it clearly tells us is that the Indian economy is slowing down. There is no better number to show that.

The article originally appeared on on September 11, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)