Chinese Auto Sales Up 45 Percent

China's passenger car sales slowed in February as buyers stayed away during Lunar New Year, but sales still rose a healthy 45 percent, research group said.

SHANGHAI (AP) -- China's passenger car sales slowed in February as buyers in the world's biggest auto market stayed away during the Lunar New Year holiday, a research group said Friday.

Passenger car sales rose a still healthy 45 percent to 881,085 units for the month, the Shanghai-based China Passenger Car Association reported, citing data from automakers. Sales had jumped 84 percent year-on-year to 1.22 million vehicles in January.

Official data on total vehicle sales for February are due next week.

China's total vehicle sales soared 45 percent last year to an estimated 13.6 million, overtaking the U.S. as the world's biggest auto market. Most analysts expect growth to exceed 10 percent this year, but to fall short of last year's stunning recovery.

It forecasts roughly 20 percent growth in total vehicle sales this year.

A large share of sales are small passenger cars and minivans used by farming families and small businesses -- the focus of tax cuts and other policies aimed at spurring sales of fuel-efficient vehicles.

The lower figure for February is good news for China's auto sector because it will alleviate worries that the industry might be overheating, said Yang Zaishun, the private research group's deputy secretary.

Recent announcements by several automakers of plans for major new investments have added to concerns over potential excess automaking capacity. Last year, surging sales had left many automakers scrambling to keep up with demand after they trimmed output early in the year following a slowdown in late 2008.

"The slight decline in February does not change the bright outlook for the market this year. On the contrary, it will help to ensure current policies remain in place," Yang said.

Automakers turned out 909,775 passenger cars in February, up 52.5 percent from a year earlier but down 26 percent from the month before, the group said.

Associated Press researcher Ji Chen contributed to this report.

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