China auto sales rise 18.3 percent in December

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BEIJING (AP) — China's auto sales rose 18.3 percent in December over a year earlier on explosive demand for SUVs, pushing the year's total sales to 21.1 million, an industry group reported Tuesday.

Drivers in the world's biggest auto market by the number of vehicles sold bought 2.4 million cars, minivans and SUVs last month, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The month's total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 15.4 percent to 2.8 million.

Auto sales suffered an unexpectedly sharp contraction from June through August, rattling a global industry that is counting on China to drive revenue growth. Demand rebounded in September after Beijing cut sales taxes on vehicles with smaller engines.

China's auto market has been cooling since growth peaked at 45 percent in 2009 but last year's plunge prompted analysts to cut growth forecasts.

Sales have been dented by measures imposed by Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities to curb smog and congestion by limiting new vehicle registrations.

Last month, half the vehicles in Beijing were ordered off the road on alternate days after the Chinese capital's air pollution spiked to dangerous levels.

Longer-term, demand is expected to be helped by the Communist Party's October decision to allow all couples to have two children, easing restrictions that limited many to one.

SUV sales rose 60.7 percent in December over a year earlier to 794,000 vehicles, according to the CAAM. Sales for the year were up 52 percent at 6.2 million.

Sales by China's domestic auto brands, which benefited from strong demand for lower-priced vehicles, rose by 15.3 percent to 8.7 million vehicles.

—General Motors Co. said sales of GM-brand vehicles by the company and its Chinese manufacturing partners rose 14 percent in December to 445,227. Full-year sales grew 5.2 percent to a record 3.6 million vehicles.

—Volkswagen AG, which competes with GM for the status of China's most popular auto brand, said December sales edged up 0.3 percent in December but gave no total. The company earlier blamed its failure to match overall market growth on its lack of a model in the popular low-priced SUV segment.

—Ford Motor Co. said December sales rose 27 percent over a year earlier to 124,768 vehicles. Full-year sales edged up 3 percent to 1.1 million.

—Nissan Motor Co. sales in December rose 15 percent to 159,100. For the year, sales grew 6.3 percent to 1.2 million.

—BMW AG, Europe's biggest luxury automaker, said 2015 sales of BMW and Mini brand vehicles rose 1.7 percent to 463,736. It blamed the slowdown on China's cooling economy and government frugality measures that have hurt a wide range of luxury goods suppliers.

—South Korea's Kia Motors Corp. said December sales rose 28.1 percent to 88,531.

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