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Geely profit beats estimates even as China’s price war rages

Geely profit beats estimates even as China’s price war rages

Geely Automobile Holdings, the Hong Kong-listed arm of billionaire Li Shufu’s auto empire, posted earnings that beat estimates and reiterated an outlook for further sales growth in 2024 despite a slowing Chinese car market.

Net income rose 1 per cent to 5.31 billion yuan (S$1 billion) in 2023, the company said in a statement on March 20, beating analyst estimates of 4.9 billion yuan.

Revenue climbed 21 per cent to 179.2 billion yuan, also topping expectations. 

“The group not only achieved a record high in total sales volume, but also set a record in the sales volume of new energy vehicles” and export sales, it said.

That was despite the “fierce competition” it faced as price wars raged throughout the year, it said.

Its board recommended a dividend of 22 Hong Kong cents per share.

The company’s gross margin improved to 15.3 per cent from 14.1 per cent a year earlier, reflecting better cost controls and a higher average price of their vehicles.

Shares closed 0.5 per cent lower in Hong Kong on March 20, though are up about 2.8 per cent in 2024.

Geely reiterated a sales goal of 1.9 million vehicles for 2024, up about 13 per cent from a year earlier.

The company is continuing to launch new models to try to catch up to market leader BYD, the world’s largest producer of EVs and China’s number one selling auto brand in 2023. 

Intense Competition

But headwinds are building in the world’s largest auto market as an economic slowdown weighs on consumer spending.

That is underpinned a fierce price war, initially kicked off by Tesla discounts in 2022 and which has grown to include BYD and Geely.

The competition is pushing out smaller players, including Human Horizons’ premium brand HiPhi, WM Motors and the electric vehicle (EV) unit of embattled real estate developer China Evergrande Group.

At the same time, established manufacturers are investing more into research and development on drivetrains, advanced assisted driver systems and other in-car technologies.

While that is aimed at boosting sales, it is also eating into the bottom line.

Geely’s research and development expenses increased by 15 per cent in 2023.

Geely’s transition toward EVs is showing positive early results, with battery-powered vehicles including plug-in hybrids now making up almost 30 per cent of its sales.

The mass-market Galaxy series sold more than 83,000 units within the first year of its launch, and deliveries of the premium Zeekr brand rose by 65 per cent on new models and upgrades. 

Zeekr is exploring going public in the United States, marking the first Chinese EV maker to do so since Xpeng’s IPO in 2020.

The brand is aiming to be profitable on a Hong Kong accounting standard in 2024, company executives said at a briefing.

While it may take some to catch up with BYD, “Geely can ultimately triumph in this intensely competitive market”, executive director Gui Shengyue said.

Geely’s domestic performance is all the more important as geopolitical headwinds and slowing demand globally hurt the outlook for exports.

The European Union is investigating Chinese EV makers over generous government subsidies that have underpinned the industry’s rapid expansion, including inspections at Geely, BYD and SAIC Motor Corporation.

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