China overtook the United States as the biggest auto market in 2009 and auto makers should see stronger growth this year, an industry group said on Jan 8.
Boosted by the Chinese government's stimulus measures, passenger car sales last year soared to 10.3 million and total vehicle sales are estimated at 13.6 million, the China Passenger Car Association said. That represents growth of about 45 percent from 2008.
"This is even better than anyone expected," Rao Da, the group's general secretary, said at a news conference in Shanghai.
By contrast, US sales of cars and light trucks plunged 21 percent in 2009 to 10.4 million as a shaky economy kept buyers away from showrooms. It was the first time any country bought more cars than Americans.
The Chinese group's data were in line with forecasts by JD Power and Associates of 12.7 million sales of cars and light trucks and 900,000 bigger vehicles in 2009 for a total of 13.6 million. The company in early 2009 expected sales of 9 million vehicles but raised that as the government rolled out measures to boost demand.
"It's very, very strong growth, far beyond the expectations we had in the early part of 2009," said John Bonnell, a JD Power analyst.
China's status as the top auto market is yet another sign of its rapid rise as a global economic power.
Global auto makers, including General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Germany's Volkswagen AG looked to China to help drive revenues as demand elsewhere plunged and US auto makers laid off workers and shuttered factories.
Volkswagen said China is its biggest market.
GM said 2009 sales by the company and its local partners in China rose 67 percent last year, while Ford said sales were up 44 percent.