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China 2014 auto sales beat 23m, but growth slows

[SHANGHAI] China's auto sales exceeded 23 million vehicles last year, an industry group said Monday, but annual growth halved from 2013 as a weaker economy took its toll on the world's biggest car market.

Sales rose 6.9 per cent, or 1.51 million vehicles, to 23.49 million, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said.

That was short of an 8.3 per cent growth target given by CAAM in July, itself a cut from an earlier forecast of 10 per cent, Bloomberg News reported.

In 2013, sales surged 13.9 per cent to 21.98 million vehicles, helped by a recovery in Japanese brands that were earlier hurt by a political row between Beijing and Tokyo.

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CAAM described 2014 sales as "stable" in a statement.

"Faced with a complex international environment and the arduous task of domestic reform, development and stability, the auto sector... achieved sound development," it said.

China's economic growth eased to 7.3 per cent in July-September, the worst quarter since the depths of the global crisis in early 2009, as policymakers accept slower expansion to carry out structural reforms.

At least seven cities have slapped limits on vehicle numbers to cut congestion and pollution, including the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, which just announced a new policy to issue only 100,000 licence plates annually.

But China remained the world's biggest auto market last year, a title it has held since 2009, well ahead of the United States.

Industry consultant Autodata has estimated total US sales last year reached 16.5 million units, up 5.9 per cent from 2013.

China's passenger car sales, which account for the bulk of the market, rose a stronger 9.9 per cent to 19.70 million vehicles in 2014, CAAM said.

"The performance of the passenger car sector was within expectations and the slower overall growth is mainly due to a decline in sales of commercial vehicles," John Zeng, general manager of LMC Automotive Consulting in Shanghai, told AFP.

For 2015, passenger car sales were likely to maintain "relatively high" growth of nine to 10 per cent, but an economic slowdown and stricter emissions regulations will hurt overall vehicle sales, Mr Zeng said.

He forecast overall auto sales growth of 7.2 per cent for this year, nearly unchanged from 2014.

Foreign automakers in China outpaced the overall market, with Germany's Volkswagen (VW) as well as General Motors (GM) and Ford of the United States all reporting record sales for last year.

VW delivered 3.67 million cars to customers in China in 2014, up 12.4 per cent, the company said Sunday, despite recalling more than 500,000 of its vehicles.

GM sold 3.54 million vehicles in China, up 12 per cent from the previous high in 2013, it said last week.

"GM expects industry demand to rise once again this year in China," President of GM China Matt Tsien said in a statement.

Ford sold 1.11 million vehicles in China in 2014, up 19 per cent from 2013, according to the company.

CAAM said that the market share of Chinese companies for passenger cars alone fell 2.1 percentage points in 2014, but gave no overall figure. Chinese firms held a 40.3 per cent market share for passenger vehicles in 2013, previous figures showed.