China ’09 auto sales likely up 44% to 13.5 mln units image

Figures due later this week are likely to show China auto sales in 2009 soared 44% to 13.5 million units, according to the average forecast of five analysts polled by Reuters.

Sales of passenger cars and other light vehicles are expected to have topped 12.75 million units in China last year, well ahead of a four-decade low of 10.3 million in the United States, according to recent forecasts from J.D. Power’s Asia Pacific division.

China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest auto market. The auto sales growth was driven by a number of incentives, including subsidies and tax cuts, rolled out by the Chinese government as part of its 4 trillion yuan ($586 mln) stimulus package during the global downturn.

Chinese vehicle manufacturers have been seeking ways to go global. The year of 2009 saw Geely Group, Beijing Auto and Sichuan Tengzhong make moves to buy all or parts of storied global brands Volvo, Saab and Hummer from U.S auto giants Ford Motor and General Motors.

General Motors and its local ventures sold 1.83 million vehicles in China last year, up 66.9% year on year. Both Shanghai GM (at 727,620 units) and SAIC-GM-Wuling (1,061,213 units) saw their sales grow more than 63% in 2009.

Chinese automakers sold 9.38 million vehicles in 2008, up 6.7%, the lowest rise in 10 years. The growth rate in 2007 was 21.84%. It may normalize to 10-15% in 2010 after the landmark year of 2009.