SHANGHAI – China's passenger car sales jumped 63 percent in March from a year earlier as manufacturers scrambled to meet strong demand driven by tax cuts and government subsidies, a state-affiliated industry group reported Friday.
Passenger car sales rose to 1.26 million vehicles in March, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
Weak sales in the United States and a surge in car purchases by newly affluent Chinese buyers helped to make this the world's largest auto market last year, when total vehicle sales jumped 45 percent over 2008 to 13.6 million units.
The U.S. market is recovering but cannot match growth in China, where many are still buying their first cars. Demand for bigger cars is growing as families that bought small cars the first time trade up to better, larger vehicles.
Sales in the U.S. climbed 24 percent in March compared to the same month a year earlier, according to figures compiled by AutoData Corp. China's auto industry does not release comparable monthly sales data adjusted for annual rates.
The Chinese industry group said total vehicle sales rose 56 percent in March from a year earlier to 1.7 million units, bringing sales for the first three months of the year to 4.6 million.
"Passenger car sales turned out to be even better than earlier market estimates," said Rao Da, general secretary of another industry group, the Shanghai-based China Passenger Car Association, which released separate data showing similar trends.
"We are confident that China's vehicle sales will surpass 17 million units this year, growing by about 25 percent," he said.
China's searing growth has buoyed foreign automakers like General Motors Co. and Toyoto Motor Corp. as they weather languid sales in their saturated home markets.
GM reported earlier that its sales in China jumped 68 percent in March over a year earlier to a new monthly record of 230,048 vehicles. First quarter sales surged 71 percent to 623,546 units.
Ford Motor Co. said first quarter sales jumped 84 percent to a record 153,362 units.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s sales in China rose 33 percent in March from a year earlier to 61,200 units, lagging the market and its rivals but still growing despite its massive recall problems in other markets.
Automakers are running double shifts to meet demand, and production of passenger cars rose 72 percent from a year earlier in March, to 1.3 million units, the CAAM reported. First quarter output rose 84 percent to 3.5 million units.
It said sales of vehicles with engines of 1.6 liters or less totalled 868,300, accounting for 69 percent of total passenger car sales.
Exports of fully assembled vehicles in March jumped 78 percent from the year before to 39,500 units, suggesting a recovery in auto exports, it said.
Chinese automakers slowed production in late 2008 and early 2009 as global economic woes dragged sales sharply lower. By mid-year, car factories were struggling to keep up with reviving demand thanks to government rescue measures and China's economic recovery.