February 6, 2020 / 2:02 PM / 10 days ago

China car dealers seek help as coronavirus slows showroom traffic

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese auto dealers, who have seen traffic through their showrooms slow to a trickle due to the fast-spreading coronavirus, have sought temporary financial support to see them through.

The coronavirus has killed more than 560 people in mainland China and more than 28,000 are confirmed to be infected, prompting local governments to extend holidays and introduce travel curbs to halt its spread.

In a letter publicly addressed to China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, China’s Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) asked banks to extend loans to dealers and offer more temporary liquidity support such as credit lines to help dealers who are “facing extreme liquidity pressure”.

The letter, which is dated Feb. 5 and posted on CADA’s social media on Thursday, said auto sales and after-sales service “show a cliff-like decline” due to the extension of the Lunar New Year holiday, travel curbs and other factors.

Industry executives said the epidemic was likely to wreak havoc on auto sales and production in the first quarter, but that it was too early to push the panic button. Last year, auto sales in China, the world’s biggest auto market, dropped 8.2% year-on-year to 25.8 million vehicles.

In a separate poll conducted by CADA, dealers predicted China’s car sales to fall 50-80% this month compared to February 2019. Some 70% of dealers polled by CADA said they had seen “almost no customers” since the end of January.

CADA, which represents thousands of dealers nationwide including China Grand Automotive Services Co (600297.SS), China Yongda Automobiles Services Holdings (3669.HK) and Zhongsheng Group Holdings (0881.HK), also said short-term liquidity pressure was high.

In China, cities have been shut off, flights cancelled and factories closed, shutting supply lines crucial to the world economy. Auto companies including Hyundai Motor (005380.KS), Tesla (TSLA.O), Ford (F.N), PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA), Nissan (7201.T) are taking hits.

As business in China’s auto showrooms drops significantly, automakers and dealers such as Tesla, Daimler (DAIGn.DE) as well as China Grand Automotive and Yongda are promoting products heavily online.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment out of usual business hours.

Reporting by Yilei Sun, Cheng Leng and Brenda Goh; editing by Nick Macfie

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