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Automobile sales cruise ahead in Q1

By Li Fusheng | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-16 10:55
A Toyota Corolla twin-engine hybrid sedan attracts attention at an auto show in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Shi Jianxue/For China Daily]

Chinese market continues to grow at a steady pace in the first three months of the year, Li Fusheng reports.

Carmakers in China sold 7.18 million cars in the first quarter of the year, up 2.8 percent from a year ago, according to data released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers on Wednesday.

The growth was primarily the result of a 4.7 percent growth in March sales, which reached 2.66 million cars in the month.

Despite the rise in the first quarter, sales were 4.2 percentage points lower than the year-on-year growth figure for January to March 2017, according to the association.

Shi Jianhua, deputy secretary-general of the association, said the upturn was in line with those seen in the same period over the past few years, signaling that the Chinese car market is growing steadily.

In the first quarter, passenger car sales, which accounted for the bulk of total car sales, reached 6.1 million, up 2.6 percent year-on-year.

In March, the sales were 2.17 million units, up 3.5 percent year-on-year.

The growth in the first quarter was mainly the result of SUV sales, which grew 11.3 percent year-on-year to 2.66 million units. Although the growth rate has slowed down a lot compared with last year, it was the only segment that saw a double-digit growth.

In the same period, sedan sales posted a meager 0.8 percent growth rate, with 2.86 million units sold, but remains the largest segment by size.

Sales of multi-purpose vehicles fell 16.5 percent, and that of minivans slumped 37.2 percent in the same period.

Cars with smaller engines were the most popular choices. Statistics from the association show that those with engines no larger than 1.6 liters totaled 4.17 million units from January to March, accounting for 68.3 percent of passenger car sales in the period.

In the first quarter, cars bearing Chinese marques accounted for 45.2 percent of total passenger car sales, half a percentage point lower than the same quarter last year.

Shi said it was a quite a feat for Chinese brands to hold a 40-percent-plus share in the vast and fierce Chinese market.

They were followed by German brands, which had a 20.9 percent market share, 1 percentage point higher than the same period in 2017.

Japanese brands saw their market share edge up a little bit, while the market shares of American and South Korean brands dipped in the period.

New energy cars, which consist of electric cars, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell cars, saw solid growth.

A total of 67,778 units were sold in March, surging 117 percent year-on-year. Sales in the first quarter reached 142,577 units, a 154 percent growth year-on-year.

Some industry insiders said part of the reason for the fast growth is because the authorities have said that such cars will be entitled to less subsidies starting from June.

But Xu Haidong, an assistant to the secretary-general of the association, said policy changes might produce some effects, but the continuous sales growth also shows the demand for such cars is also growing fast.

In an earlier interview, Xu said: "We are confident in new energy cars and see no problems in their sales reaching 1 million units in 2018."

China sold 777,000 such cars last year. It is estimated that China has now 1.9 million new energy vehicles on its roads.

The country overtook the United States as the world's largest new energy car market in 2015.

Charging networks for such vehicles have also been growing rapidly, with a total of 253,074 public charging poles built by the end of March, according to the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance.

The number of private charging poles in the country totaled around 393,000 as of March.

Commercial cars, including buses and trucks, also reported a decent sales performance. In March, 488,000 vehicles were sold, a 5.8 percent rise from the same month last year. That brought sales in the first quarter to 1.08 million units, up nearly 4.1 percent year-on-year. Of these, bus sales were 97,000 units, up 2 percent from the same period last year and truck sales stood at 985,000 units, a 4.3 percent growth year-on-year.

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