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China's auto sales said to beat US again

PRELIMINARY figures show auto sales in China reached about 1.03 million units last month, exceeding United States sales for the third month in a row, state media reports said yesterday.

Data from 14 major auto makers, accounting for roughly 90 percent of total sales, totaled 1.026 million, the Shanghai Securities News said, citing Chen Bin, head of the Department of Industry at China's main economic planning agency.

Full industry data due to be released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers in coming days could push last month's auto sales in the country to a monthly record, the reports said.

China's industrywide auto sales in March last year totaled 1.06 million, it said.

Americans bought 857,735 new vehicles last month, down 37 percent from the 1.36 million sold in the same month a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp.

But a 25-percent jump in US sales from February raised hopes that the worst may be over for an industry battered by global economic malaise and financial catastrophe.

China is bound to eventually overtake the US as the world's largest auto market, and recent developments have accelerated that trend, with Chinese vehicle sales in January and February exceeding US monthly sales for the first time ever.

China's first-quarter sales may exceed those in the US, Chen told a shipbuilding conference in Beijing. Sales for the full year are forecast to exceed 10 million units for the first time ever.

With sales slumping elsewhere, China is one of the few bright spots for the ailing industry.

General Motors Corp said yesterday that it sold 137,004 vehicles in China last month, up 24.6 percent from a year earlier. Its mini vehicle joint venture, SAIC-GM-Wuling, saw sales surge 38 percent to 90,784 vehicles.

But China's promise is also a curse for auto makers facing keen competition among domestic and foreign makers.

Yesterday, Germany-based Daimler AG launched its Smart model in China - the 39th market for the two-seater minicar.

Other auto makers are also planning launches ahead of and during the April 20-28 Shanghai auto show.

"The confidence in China is back," said Klaus Maier, president and chief executive officer of Daimler's Mercedes-Benz (China) Ltd.


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