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China's auto market growth may halve to 7% this year: industry body head

[SHANGHAI] Growth in China's auto market, the world's biggest, will halve to 7 per cent this year weighed down by a slowing economy, the head of an industry body said on Saturday.

"Personally, I think growth this year can reach 7 per cent," Dong Yang, secretary general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Shanghai. "The economy is slowing. The auto industry would reflect that but typically lags the economic cycle by a bit."

CAAM had forecast China's auto market, which grew by 13.9 per cent last year, to expand at 8.3 per cent in 2014. Mr Dong said CAAM will not make any official revisions to its forecast.

Carlos Ghosn, head of Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor Co and its French alliance partner Renault, told the same conference he was still optimistic about China's outlook. "From time to time we have slowdown ... but fundamentally I'm still very optimistic on the fact that the long-term trend in China is up and carmakers should be prepared for that," Mr Ghosn said, pointing to China's low car ownership level compared with other major markets.

Nissan has said its China sales fell by 20 per cent in September from a year earlier, the third straight month of decline, due to sluggish sales of light commercial vehicles and increased competition in the passenger car segment.

During the first nine months of the year, overall vehicle sales in China rose 7 per cent from the same period a year earlier, according to CAAM data.

China's annual economic growth slowed to 7.3 per cent in the third quarter - the weakest pace since the depths of the global financial crisis, and down from 7.5 per cent in the previous quarter.

REUTERS