China monthly auto sales overtake US for first time

China’s monthly vehicle sales surpassed those in the United States for the first time in January,moving the country closer to becoming the world’s biggest auto market....

Written by Associated Press | Shanghai | Published: February 11, 2009 2:09 am

China’s monthly vehicle sales surpassed those in the United States for the first time in January,moving the country closer to becoming the world’s biggest auto market,data released on Tuesday showed. With its growing middle-class and vast potential as a consumer market,China is vital for General Motors,Volkswagen and Toyota as they count on demand here to offset weakness in the US and elsewhere.

But China’s ascent in the global auto market has been hastened by the plunge in US auto sales,which tumbled 37 per cent in January to a 26-year low of 656,976 units. Chinese vehicle sales also have cooled,but hardly as dramatically. In January,735,000 vehicles were sold,down 14.4 per cent from a monthly record 860,000 last January,the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said.

General Motors Corp executive director of global market and industry analysis Mike DiGiovanni said last week he expected Chinese auto sales could hit 10.7 million units in 2009,more than his estimate of 9.8 million unit sales in the US this year. Autodata forecasts 2009 US sales at 9.57 million.

China’s vehicle market has grown dramatically in recent years,overtaking Japan in 2006 to become the world’s second-largest by annual sales. With 1.3 billion people,China will inevitably leapfrog the US,with a population of 300 million,into the number one spot,industry experts say.

Still,if American car demand revives in coming months,the US will remain the world’s largest market by annual sales — at least for another year.

China’s best-selling automakers are GM and Germany’s Volkswagen AG but its own ambitious producers,such as Chery Automobile,are growing fast. General Motors says it sold a record 1.09 million vehicles in China,up 6 per cent from 2008. January sales in China were 0.8 per cent below those in December and well below the 790,000 some analysts had anticipated.

To spur the slowing auto market here,the government has rolled out measures to help boost vehicle sales as part of a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package while it also tries to promote cleaner,more energy-efficient engines.

In 2008,China’s auto sales grew 6.7 per cent from the previous to 9.38 million units — the first time growth has fallen below 10 per cent since 1999.

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