Too often, investors see competitors as being in a situation where if one gains, another must lose. This is built around a model where market share is the primary factor but also relies on the assumption of a zero-sum game. However, the automotive market is a place where there can be multiple winners over the next several years and the success of one company does not necessarily mean the failure of another.
In a market where no growth is expected, increased sales come from an increased market share. However, in a market where strong growth is happening, total sales for a company can actually rise even if market share slips.
And after coming out of a recession, auto sales look primed to rebound as consumers seek to replace the oldest-ever fleet of cars on the road. At an average of 11.4 years (according to R.L. Polk), the total fleet is moving toward the end of its life cycle. Combined with a recovering economy, this should be a major boost for growth.
With a continuing recession in Europe, the European auto market continues to drag down the results of major automakers. General Motors (NYSE: GM) is currently putting out strong North American numbers but weakness in the European market is hurting overall performance.
But there are signs of a turnaround here. A report from Ernst & Young forecasts an end to the eurozone recession in 2013 and a return to slight growth in 2014. For its own part, Ford (NYSE: F) believes that European demand has "stabilized". If this assumption is correct, it means automotive sales have hit bottom and may begin to rise again as Europe returns to growth.
When examining the future of automakers, it's important not to leave out the potential emerging markets hold. While some of these markets have slipped recently, their economies are generally growing faster than those of developed nations. Furthermore, much of this growth coincides with people entering the middle class, where the ownership of an automobile is a symbol of success.
Higher-end automakers should also look for growth in these markets as their faster-than-average economic growth creates more individuals with a taste for high-end vehicles. Even the electric automaker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) is making a move in China as it seeks to build out a worldwide sales presence.
German automaker Volkswagen AG (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY) is also looking to China as a key part of its growth plan. The construction of five new plants there and the commitment of billions in investment shows Volkswagen's bullishness on the Chinese market. For Volkswagen, that country provides a bright spot of growth to counterbalance much of the negative results currently coming out of the eurozone.
The pie is growing
Competition is frequently thought of as a fight of parts of a pie. And if the pie is not getting any bigger, the gains of one competitor mean losses for another. However, the automotive market is growing, creating an expanding pie for automakers to compete for. This expansion not only helps to grow sales of ordinary vehicles but also balances out new capacity being brought online by emerging markets automakers and EV manufacturer Tesla Motors.
Based on a favorable position of the North American market, an end of the recession in the European market, and continual growth in emerging markets, automotive demand looks set to surge over the next several years. Investors looking for a diversified play on this growth should take a look at multiple automakers and consider that the gains of one are not necessarily losses for another.
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