“In the past, more than a thousand people would enter a dealership in a month, and now only ten groups of people might go into a store in a month,” said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association. Dealerships are stuck with five months’ worth of unsold cars, he added.
General Motors is only gradually reopening its dozen Chinese assembly plants as demand justifies it and local regulations allow it. Some cities have delayed the resumption of factory production until this week, and businesses are only beginning to reopen in Hubei Province, where most of China’s infections and deaths have occurred.
Factory owners face still one more problem: slowing global demand for the goods China makes. The coronavirus outbreak is threatening global growth, which could slow factories just as they restart. “If the demand shock is not addressed fast, then it could become a problem,” said Mr. Cao, of Peking University.
Until China revs up fully, many people are trying to conserve cash. Shirley Zhuo, the manager at an industrial park in southern Shanghai, said that the site used to demand the various workshops there pay rent three months in advance. Now, it asks for only a single month.
“Because of the epidemic, all the orders have been canceled,” she said. “If the orders are canceled, the production cannot be completed, and the venture is shut down.”
On a nearby street, Dai Jianglai fears the imminent failure of her grilled pancake eatery. The landlord forced her to prepay two years’ rent before she opened late last year.
“I was going to interview today for a factory job, but decided instead to try one last time,” she said, standing at the bright orange counter on an almost deserted street at lunchtime. She closed soon after but hopes to reopen next week, when business might be better.