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Car sales in China shine as rest of world reels from virus

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Demand for cars in China continues to go from strength to strength, making the automobile market in Asia's biggest economy a lone bright spot as the coronavirus pandemic puts a damper on sales in Europe and the US.

[SHANGHAI] Demand for cars in China continues to go from strength to strength, making the automobile market in Asia's biggest economy a lone bright spot as the coronavirus pandemic puts a damper on sales in Europe and the US.

Deliveries of sedans, SUVs, minivans and multipurpose vehicles increased 7.4 per cent in September from a year earlier to 1.94 million units, the China Passenger Car Association said Tuesday. That's the third straight monthly increase, and it was driven by demand for SUVs. A fuller sales picture will be reported later in the day by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

With auto sales in the US and Europe still impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, reviving demand in China is proving a boon for international and domestic manufacturers. China is set to be the first country globally to bounce back to 2019 volume levels, albeit only by 2022, according to researchers including S&P Global Ratings.

Automakers worldwide have invested billions of dollars in China, the world's top car market since 2009, where the middle class is expanding but penetration is still relatively low. Brands from countries such as Germany and Japan have weathered the pandemic better than their local rivals - the combined market share of Chinese brands fell to 36.2 per cent in the first eight months from a peak of 43.9 per cent in 2017.

Even as the market recovers, it may still record its third straight annual decrease, Xin Guobin, a vice minister at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said last month. That's because of the heavy declines suffered at the start of the year, during the height of the outbreak.

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Wholesales of new-energy vehicles, consisting of pure electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell autos, almost doubled in September to 125,000 units, PCA said. Tesla Inc, which started deliveries from its Shanghai gigafactory at the start of the year, sold 11,329 vehicles. The company ranked third in NEV wholesales last month, behind SAIC-GM Wuling Automobile Co and BYD Co.

PCA said it expects NEVs to help drive overall auto sales growth in the fourth quarter with the introduction of new, competitive models, while strength in the yuan will help lower costs locally.

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