China auto sales fall again in 2019 amid trade war

Beijing: China's auto sales fell for a second year in 2019, an industry group reported Monday, as a trade war with Washington and an economic slowdown fueled consumer anxiety and demand for electric vehicles weakened.

The downturn is squeezing global and Chinese automakers that are spending billions of dollars to meet government mandates to sell electric vehicles.

Sales in the industry's biggest global market declined 9.6% from 2018 levels to 21.4 million sedans, SUVs and minivans, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

After two decades of explosive growth, Chinese auto sales fell 4.1% in 2018 as unease over the tariff war with President Donald Trump and slowing economic growth prompted consumers to put off big purchases.

December sales were off 0.1% from a year earlier, CAAM said. That would be an improvement over double-digit declines in previous months. The group gave no December sales total, but based on other CAAM data it would be about 2.2 million vehicles.

2019 sales of electric and gasoline-electric hybrid sedans and SUVs sank 4% over a year earlier to 1.2 million. That still would make China the technology's biggest market by far, accounting for at least half of global purchases.

Monthly sales of electric vehicles rose by double digits in early 2019 but plunged after Beijing ended government subsidies to buyers in July. Regulators shifted the burden of promoting the technology to automakers by imposing mandatory sales targets.

General Motors Co. said earlier 2019 sales by the company and its Chinese partners fell for a second year, declining 15% from a year earlier to just under 3.1 million vehicles. GM sales in China peaked at just over 4 million units in 2017.

Volkswagen AG said sales rose 1.7% to 3.2 million, edging past GM to at least temporarily claim the status of China's biggest auto brand.

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