Updated: December 8, 2009 4:26 PM | By Elaine Kurtenbach, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, cp.org

China's auto sales, production surpass 1 million in November, research group says



SHANGHAI, China - China extended its lead over the U.S. as the world's biggest auto market in November, with production and sales more than doubling from a year earlier to both surpass one million vehicles.

The Shanghai-based China Passenger Car Association, a private research group, Tuesday reported sales of cars and trucks hit 1.01 million in November, up 104 per cent from the same month last year, while production was 1.08 million, up 101 per cent.

"It is strong evidence of how hot automobile sales are in China, despite oil price hikes and bad snow," Rao Da, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association, a private research company often cited by local media, told reporters.

Total vehicle sales surpassed 12 million in January-November, with the total for the year likely to exceed a record 13 million, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Monday, citing figures compiled by the Beijing-based China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

In 2008, sales totalled 9.8 million units.

The government-affiliated CAAM reported Tuesday that passenger car sales, including SUVs and multipurpose vehicles, totalled 9.23 million in the first 11 months of the year, up 50 per cent from a year earlier.

China's auto market is sizzling, by any measure, thanks largely to tax cuts and subsidies aimed at supporting the industry and encouraging use of more fuel efficient vehicles.

The boom in sales has clinched China's status, at least for now, as the world's biggest vehicle market due to languishing sales in the U.S.

January-October vehicle sales in the U.S. totalled 8.6 million compared with Autodata CorpChina's figure for 10.9 million in China during the same period.

Rao forecast that car makers would record even higher sales in December than in November.

The huge increase from a year before partly reflects a downturn in sales late last year, as the economy began to feel the worst of the impact from the global financial crisis.

But demand has been strong enough to alleviate pressure to cut prices in the intensely competitive market, boosting profitability for many automakers, analysts say.

A comparison of prices for similar models sold both in the U.S. and China shows even locally produced cars selling for much more in China than they do in the American market, the state-run newspaper China Business News reported Tuesday.

It said a Toyota Camry with a 2.4L engine, for example, sells for about 149,000 yuan (under $22,000) in the U.S. but is priced at 199,800 yuan (about $29,200) in China.

After last year's downturn, automakers cut production in anticipation of much slower sales, though they have since ramped up output. Car dealers say they still have waiting lists for some of the most popular models of cars, but overall production in November exceeded sales.

That was especially true for minivans. Car makers sold 183,102 minivans in November but produced 208,410, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

Despite its miseries in its recession-wracked home market, GM has had a banner year in China.

Including minivans and other passenger cars, SAIC-GM-Wuling, its minivehicle venture in China, led sales in November, with 83,753 units sold.

Excluding minivans, Shanghai GM, General Motors Co.'s flagship joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corp., led sales in November at 78,777, trailed by FAW-VW, Volkswagen AG's venture with FAW Group, selling 64,853, the association said.

The best-selling model in November was the F3, a compact sedan made by battery maker turned car manufacturer BYD Autos, at 32,000 units, followed by the Buick Excelle, at 22,200 units, CAAM reported.

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