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China’s Vehicle Sales Top U.S. Tally for First Time
China vehicle sales topped the U.S.’s for the first time last month, as economic growth, price cuts and government support tempered declines in demand caused by rising job loses.  January auto sales in China totaled 735,500, a 14 percent drop, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said in an e-mailed statement today. That compares with a 37 percent plunge to 656,693 in the U.S., the world’s largest auto market last year.

Chinese vehicle sales have surged fivefold over the past decade as export-fueled economic growth above 10 percent made General Motors Corp. and Volkswagen AG cars affordable to more people. This year, demand has fallen less than in the U.S. as a 4 trillion Yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package helps the country avoid the worst of the global recession.

“This just shows how important China has become to the world’s automakers,” said Yale Zhang, director of CSM Asia in Shanghai. “Still, it’s very unlikely that China will stay ahead for the full year. The U.S. has a much bigger consumer market.”

U.S. auto sales fell 18.0 percent last year to 13.2 million. China sales increased 6.7 percent to 9.38 million, according to the association, which represents automakers active in the country. Sales may grow 5 percent this year, the slowest pace since 1998, according to the group.

Chinese passenger-car sales fell 7.8 percent in January to 610,600. That’s the fifth drop in six months.

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