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China's auto sales rise 5.1 per cent in January-February

BEIJING, China – China’s auto sales growth decelerated to 5.1 per cent in the first two months of this year as demand for lower-priced domestic brand SUVs soared but purchases of sedans contracted, an industry group reported Thursday.

Sales in the biggest auto market by number of vehicles sold rose to a total of 3.6 million units for the January-February period, according to an industry group, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Sales for the first two months are reported together to factor out the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday, a two-week slowdown that occurs at different times during that period each year.

SUV sales soared 54.8 per cent in January and February over a year earlier while sedan sales fell 12.5 per cent, according to the CAAM. Chinese brands accounted for 60 per cent of the SUV market.

Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 4.4 per cent to 4.1 million in January and February.

Auto sales suffered an unexpectedly sharp contraction from June through August, rattling a global industry that is counting on China to drive revenue growth. Demand rebounded in September after Beijing cut sales taxes on vehicles with smaller engines.

China’s auto market has been cooling since growth peaked at 45 per cent in 2009 but last year’s plunge prompted analysts to cut growth forecasts.

Sales have been dented by measures imposed by Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities to curb smog and congestion by limiting new vehicle registrations.

In December, half the vehicles in Beijing were ordered off the road on alternate days after the Chinese capital’s air pollution spiked to dangerous levels.