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January car sales soar despite winter storms
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China passenger vehicle sales soared to a monthly high in January, with the worst winter storms in half a century failing to dampen the country's increasing love for cars, an industry group said.

Chinese car makers sold 639,000 passenger vehicles last month, up 32 percent from the same period in 2006 and 6.7 percent up from December, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

January sales exceeded those in the previous month for the first time in recent years, despite coming at a time when dealers usually try various measures to reduce stock in hope of bumping up sales figures before the year end, it said.

Sedans accounted for three-quarters of the January figure, while sport utility vehicles (SUV) sales jumped 60.5 percent year on year to 32,000 units, nearly twice as fast as the industry average.

Passenger vehicle production was up 14.5 percent year on year to 566,000 units. This included 423,000 sedans, 35,000 SUVs and 14,500 mini-vans.

Sales in February, which only has 18 workdays due to the Spring Festival holiday, were likely to be as high as 400,000 units because the freak winter weather had delayed some January deliveries, the association said.

Vehicle production and sales in the country both surged more than 20 percent to a record 8.8 million units last year, in contrast to weakening sales worldwide.

In total, China, the world's second largest car market, produced 6.38 million passenger vehicles and sold 6.3 million units last year.

The association forecasts imported passenger vehicle sales would continue to outpace those of locally-made units this year.

Demand for imported high-end cars would remain strong as they only had a few local rivals. In addition, domestic oil prices were rather low and the country has a growing rank of nouveau riche, it said.

The market for indigenous low-emission cars was weakening domestically, while 81 percent of imported SUVs and 70 percent of imported sedans had engines larger than 2.5 liters last year, both up 20 percentage points from a year earlier.

(Xinhua News Agency February 15, 2008)

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