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China car sales up in March

Published:Sunday | April 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

By Elaine Kurtenbach, AP Business Writer


China's passenger car sales jumped 63 per cent in March from a year earlier as manufacturers scrambled to meet strong demand driven by tax cuts and government subsidies, a state-affiliated industry group reported Friday.

Passenger car sales rose to 1.26 million vehicles in March, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

The figures show sustained growth for automakers in a market that bounced back from a slowdown in late 2008-2009 as the government pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into economic stimulus.

Weak sales in the United States and a surge in car purchases by newly affluent Chinese buyers helped to make this the world's largest auto market last year, when total vehicle sales jumped 45 per cent over 2008 to 13.6 million units.

The US market is recovering but cannot match growth in China, where many are still buying their first cars. Demand for bigger cars is growing as families that bought small cars the first time trade up to better, larger vehicles.

Climbing us sales

Sales in the US climbed 24 per cent in March compared to the same month a year earlier, accor-ding to figures compiled by AutoData Corp China's auto industry does not release compa-rable monthly sales data adjusted for annual rates.

The Chinese industry group said total vehicle sales rose 56 per cent in March from a year earlier to 1.7 million units, bringing sales for the first three months of the year to 4.6 million.

"Passenger car sales turned out to be even better than earlier market estimates," said Rao Da, general secretary of another industry group, the Shanghai-based China Passenger Car Association, which released separate data showing similar trends.

"We are confident that China's vehicle sales will surpass 17 million units this year, growing by about 25 per cent," he said.

China's searing growth has buoyed foreign automakers like General Motors Co and Toyoto Motor Corp. as they weather languid sales in their saturated home markets.

GM reported earlier that its sales in China jumped 68 per cent in March over a year earlier to a new monthly record of 230,048 vehicles. First quarter sales surged 71 per cent to 623,546 units.

Ford Motor Co said first quarter sales jumped 84 per cent to a record 153,362 units.

Toyota sale increase

Toyota Motor Corp's sales in China rose 33 per cent in March from a year earlier to 61,200 units, lagging the market and its rivals but still growing despite its massive recall problems in other markets.

China's domestic automakers, who tend not to release sales data on as regular a basis, are also generally enjoying strong growth, and running double shifts to meet demand.

Production of passenger cars rose 72 per cent from a year earlier in March, to 1.3 million units, the CAAM reported. First quarter output rose 84 per cent to 3.5 million units.

It said sales of vehicles with engines of 1.6 litres or less totalled 868,300, accounting for 69 per cent of total passenger car sales.

Exports of fully assembled vehicles in March jumped 78 per cent from the year before to 39,500 units, suggesting a recovery in auto exports, it said.

Chinese automakers slowed production in late 2008 and early 2009 as global economic woes dragged sales sharply lower. By mid-year, car factories were struggling to keep up with reviving demand, thanks to government rescue measures and China's economic recovery.

Associated Press researcher Ji Chen contributed to this report.