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Competitive Environment

The number, size, and quality of competitive firms in a particular target market compose a second set of factors that affect a company’s ability to successfully enter and compete profitably. While country-level economic and demographic data are widely available for most regions of the world, competitive data are much harder to come by, especially when the principal players are subsidiaries of multinational corporations. As a consequence, competitive analysis in foreign countries, especially in emerging markets, is difficult and costly to perform and its findings do not always provide the level of insight needed to make good decisions. Nevertheless, a comprehensive competitive analysis provides a useful framework for developing strategies for growth and for analyzing current and future primary competitors and their strengths and weaknesses.

Minicase: Which BRIC Countries? A Key Challenge for Carmakers [3]

Today, automobile manufacturers face a critical challenge: deciding which BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) to bet on. In each, as per capita income rises, so will per capita car ownership—not in a straight line but in classic “S-curve” fashion. Rates of vehicle ownership stay low during the first phases of economic growth, but as the GDP or purchasing power of a country reaches a level of sustained broad prosperity, and as urbanization reshapes the work patterns of a country, vehicle sales take off. But that is about where the similarities end. Each of the four BRIC nations has a completely different set of market and industry dynamics that make decision choices about which countries to target, including making difficult decisions about which markets to avoid, extremely difficult.

For one thing, vehicle manufacturing is a high-profile industry that generates enormous revenue, employs millions of people, and is often a proxy for a nation’s manufacturing prowess and economic influence. Governments are extensively involved in regulating or influencing virtually every aspect of the product and the way the industry operates—including setting emissions and safety standards, licensing distributors, and setting tariffs and rules about how much manufacturing must take place locally. This reality makes the job of understanding each market and appreciating the differences more vital. For example, a summary overview of the BRIC nations reveals the differences among these markets and the operating complexities in all of them.

Brazil, with Russia, is one of the smaller BRIC countries, with 188 million people (by comparison, China and India each have more than 1 billion, Russia has 142 million). Yet car usage is already relatively high: 104 cars in use per 1,000 people, nearly 10 times the rate of usage in India, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Because of this, growth projections for Brazil are relatively low—more in line with developed nations than with the other BRIC countries. Projections made by the industry research firm Global Insight show that sales will grow just 2% until 2013, underperforming even the U.S. market’s projected growth rate.

On the plus side, Brazil is socioeconomically stable, with increasing wealth and a maturing finance system that is helping to propel growth among rural, first-time buyers who prefer compact cars. Few domestic brands exist, as the market is dominated by GM, Ford, Fiat, and Volkswagen. Prompted by generous government incentives, high import taxes, and exchange rate risks, foreign automakers have invested significantly in Brazil, which has thus become an unrivaled production hub for the rest of South America. Brazilian consumers live in a country with large rural areas and very rough terrain; they demand fairly large, SUV-like cars, made with economical small engines and flex-fuel power trains friendly to the country’s biofuel industry. When a Latin American family buys its first automobile, chances are it was made in Brazil.

Russia, even though it is the smallest of the BRIC countries in population, has the highest auto adoption of the four: 213 cars in use per 1,000 people. (Western Europe, by comparison, has 518, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.) Yet Global Insight expects future sales growth to average 6.5% from 2008 to 2013, far outpacing Brazil (2%), Western Europe (1.2%), and Japan and Korea (0.2%).

Given Russia’s proximity to Europe, consumer preferences there are more akin to those of the developed markets than to those of China or India, and expensive, status-enhancing European models remain popular, although European safety features, interior components, and electronics are often stripped out to reduce costs. For vehicle manufacturers, the attractions of the Russian market include an absence of both local partnership requirements and significant local competitors. But there is high political risk. So far, the Russian government has permitted foreign carmakers to operate relatively freely, but the Kremlin’s history of meddling in private enterprise and undercutting private ownership worries some executives. These concerns were heightened in November 2008, when Russia implemented tariffs against car imports in hopes of avoiding layoffs that might spark labor unrest among the country’s 1.5 million car industry workers.

India has 1.1 billion people, but its level of car adoption is still low, with only 11 cars in use per 1,000 people. The upside is higher potential growth: among the BRIC countries, India is expected to have the fastest-growing auto sales, almost 15% per year until 2013, according to Global Insight. Sales of subcompact cars are strong, even during the global recession. The popularity of these small cars combines with India’s energy shortages and the country’s chronic pollution to provide foreign carmakers with an ideal opportunity to further develop electric power-train technologies there.

Until the early 1990s, foreign automobile manufacturers were mostly shut out of India. That has changed radically. Today, foreign automakers are welcomed and the government promotes foreign ownership and local manufacturing with tax breaks and strong intellectual property protection. And because foreign companies were shut out for a long period of time, India has capable manufacturers and suppliers for foreign vehicle manufacturers to partner with. Local competition is strong but is thus far concentrated among three players: Maruti Suzuki India, Ltd., Tata, and the Hyundai Corporation, which is well established in India.

China is almost as large as the other three combined in total auto sales and production. Its overall auto usage is just 18 cars per 1,000 households, but annual sales growth until 2013 is expected to be almost 10%. Its size and growth potential make China a dominant force in the industry going forward; new models and technologies developed there will almost certainly become available elsewhere.

But the Chinese government plays a central role in shaping the auto industry. Current ownership policies mandate that foreign vehicle manufacturers enter into 50-50 joint ventures with local automakers, and poor intellectual property rights enforcement puts the design and engineering innovations of foreign car companies at constant risk. At the same time, to cope with energy shortages and rampant pollution, the Chinese government is strongly encouraging research and development on alternative power trains, including electric cars and gasoline-electric hybrids. As a result, Chinese car companies may develop significant power-train capabilities ahead of their competitors.

Like their Indian counterparts, Chinese car companies have outpaced global automakers in developing cars specifically for emerging markets. A few Western companies, like Volkswagen AG, which has sold its Santana models in China through a joint venture (Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive Company) since 1985, are competitive. Some Chinese carmakers, like BYD Company, aspire to become global leaders in the industry. But many suffer from a talent shortage and inexperience in managing across borders. This may prompt them to acquire all or part of distressed Western automobile companies in the near future or to hire skilled auto executives from established companies and their suppliers.

In short, each of the four BRIC nations has a completely different set of market and industry dynamics. And the same is true for the other developing nations. Meanwhile, the number of autos in use in the developing world is projected to expand almost six-fold by 2018.

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