Hong Kong (CNN Business) Factories shut down, new model launches delayed and sales plunging. China's huge car market has been thrown into disarray by the country's latest Covid surge, with stringent lockdowns across several cities hitting vehicle production.
China's worst Covid outbreak in two years has prompted authorities to ramp up the country's zero-Covid policy, locking down several major cities and tens of millions of people.
The strict lockdown measures in places such as Shanghai and Jilin province have forced automakers to shut down manufacturing and risk delayed shipments at a time when global demand for vehicles is strong.
Volkswagen's (VLKPF) factories in Shanghai and Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin, have been shut for weeks, the company said on Monday.
"Due to the current Covid situation, production in our factories in Changchun (since mid-March) and Anting/Shanghai (since April 1) is currently on hold," Volkswagen said in a written response to CNN Business. "This is currently causing a delay in production."
The company added that it will compensate for the production stoppages "if the situation eases in the near future," through extra shifts and other measures. "At present, we are assessing the situation from day to day," it added.
Toyota (TM) has also closed its factory in Changchun for nearly a month.
"Due to the travel restrictions in Changchun, the impact on supplier operations, and the perspective of ensuring the safety and security of employees and all related parties, Toyota has been suspending operations at the Changchun plant from March 14 onwards," a company spokesperson told CNN Business.
Tesla (TSLA) has halted production at its Shanghai factory since the city imposed a lockdown on March 28, according to Reuters. The company didn't respond to a request from CNN Business for comment.
Nio (NIO), a Chinese electric vehicle maker, said Saturday that it had suspended production because of Covid-related disruptions.
"Since March, due to the pandemic, the company's supplier partners in several places including Jilin, Shanghai and Jiangsu suspended production one after the other and have yet to recover," the company said in a statement. "Consequently, Nio has halted car production," it said, adding that the company will postpone deliveries of its EVs to users.
It's not just individual manufacturers. The Beijing auto show, one of the industry's largest global gatherings, has been postponed until further notice due to the recent surge in Covid cases. The event was originally scheduled to be held from April 21 to April 30.
"We will pay close attention to the development of the pandemic," Secretariat of Auto China said in a post on its official WeChat account on Saturday, adding that it will announce new dates in due course.
That means several new car launches will be delayed. Chinese EV makers Nio, XPeng, and Li Auto have previously said they would unveil new models at the Beijing autoshow.
The Covid restrictions have also taken a toll on the country's car sales.
Auto sales in China plunged 12% in March from a year ago, reversing a 19% increase in February and ending two straight months of growth, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed on Monday.
The association attributed the decline to the recent surge in Covid cases.
Monday's data showed one bright spot, however — China's demand for electric vehicles remains strong.
About 455,000 new energy vehicles, including hybrids and pure EVs, were sold in March, up 122% from a year ago, according to separate data from the China Passenger Car Association.
Tesla's China sales were particularly strong, ranking first among pure-electric brands.
The company delivered 65,814 China-made vehicles in March, with the majority of those sold in the Chinese market. That number was up 85% from a year ago.
BYD (BYDDF), meanwhile, sold the most new energy vehicles in China, delivering 104,878 units in March. Among them, 53,664 were pure-electric models.
Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about its March sales numbers.
The best solution to high gas prices: tax the oil companies
President Biden has led a successful campaign to cut Russia off from the global economy, with asset freezes, export controls and a ban on Russian oil imports. While this has had a devastating impact on the Russian economy, there's no denying that Americans are feeling the reverberations as well.
Gas prices rose nearly 70 cents per gallon in a two-week period in the wake of the invasion. Prices at the pump have since plateaued, but they are still more than $4 per gallon. Biden has responded by announcing the release of oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supply and lower prices. The move, along with efforts from US allies overseas, will add more than one million barrels of oil per day to supply. Still, the president and Congress should go further in combating price increases. One way to do that is by enacting a temporary windfall profits tax on Big Oil and the billions of dollars the industry has been raking in.
Oil giants Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Chevron reported more than $75 billion in profits last year. ExxonMobil alone made $8.9 billion in the final three months of 2021. This is in the wake of propping up Putin's fossil fuel economy for years. ExxonMobil's subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas Limited, has a stake in an oil and gas project that has generated billions in payments to Russia's federal and regional governments. BP, meanwhile, has owned one-fifth of Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company, since 2013, though it has said it would divest its stake. Shell has a stake in an oil and gas project that Russian energy company Gazprom controls, while Chevron owns a stake in a pipeline venture there.
These companies are in a position to profit from Russia's attack on Ukraine. Pumping oil costs them the same amount, but now they can sell it at prices driven up by the war. They are using the resulting windfall profits to increase payouts to shareholders through buybacks and dividends. When challenged during a congressional hearing last week, oil CEOs made it clear they are not going to rein themselves in.
That's why Congress must implement a temporary windfall profits tax which, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), could bring in tens of billions of dollars to help defray fuel costs for families. The tax would rise or fall as prices fluctuate, until prices return to pre-crisis levels.
Currently, oil companies earn more money when the prices they can charge rise. But if the tax rate of oil companies went up along with the price of oil, the windfall would be recaptured and could then be returned to American consumers via a direct payment, for instance.
This proposal would be a temporary response to an extraordinary international energy crisis. Congress could ensure that the windfall profits tax would go away once oil prices return to normal levels ($75 per barrel of oil, according to the CAP analysis). But this won't be the last time that the US consumer is buffeted by volatile energy costs, especially if we remain so dependent on petroleum. For the longer term, Congress must also invest in building a clean energy economy.
It's time to make oil companies pay their fair share and alleviate some of the burden on the American consumer. The most immediate action Congress should take is to enact a temporary windfall profits tax that ensures oil companies don't siphon away profits for themselves at the expense of American families.