China's auto sales growth slows in February to 6.4 percent but SUV sales jump

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BEIJING — China's auto sales growth decelerated in February despite a near doubling in purchases of Chinese-made SUVs, an industry group reported Tuesday.

Sales in world's biggest auto market rose 6.4 percent to 1.4 million vehicles, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. That was down from January's 10.3 percent expansion.

Demand for autos has weakened as China's economic growth cooled to a two-decade low last year of 7.4 percent. February sales also were depressed by the Lunar New Year holiday, when many businesses close for up to two weeks.

For the combined two-month period of January and February, passenger vehicle sales rose 8.7 percent from a year earlier to 3.4 million units. Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 4.3 percent, which CAAM said represented a decline of 6.5 percentage points from the growth rate the same time last year.

Global automakers see China as a future revenue driver and are investing heavily to create models to appeal to local tastes. That is squeezing domestic brands such as Geely, Chery and Great Wall.

Sales of Chinese-brand SUVs jumped 94.7 percent in February to 187,000 vehicles. That helped to offset a 3.3 percent decline in domestic sedan sales to 174,000 vehicles. Last year, sales of Chinese sedans slumped 17.4 percent.

CAAM said Chinese automakers gained market share in February, reversing a steady decline, but gave no details. Last year, their market share fell by 2.1 percentage points to 41.2 percent.

Last year's total passenger vehicle sales rose 9.9 percent to 19.7 million vehicles, down 5.8 percentage points from 2013's growth, according to CAAM.

This country is the biggest market by number of units sold but smaller than the United States in financial terms because Chinese drivers buy smaller, less expensive vehicles.

Foreign brands grew more slowly than the overall market in February.

General Motors Co. said sales of GM brand vehicles by the company and its Chinese partners rose 1.3 percent over a year earlier to 261,072 vehicles. Foreign automakers that want to manufacture vehicles in China are required to work through local partners.

Ford Motor Co. said sales of Ford brand vehicles rose 9 percent to 79,384 vehicles. For the first two months of the year, Ford sales rose 15 percent to a total 191,983 vehicles.

Nissan Motor Co., the most popular Japanese brand in China, said sales contracted 2.4 percent to 70,200 in February. For the January-February period, sales grew 11.7 percent to 186,600 vehicles.

Luxury brand BMW AG said sales of its BMW and Mini brands rose 2.7 percent to a total of 31,089 vehicles.

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