China's auto sales growth seen near 2010 rate-exec

BIRMINGHAM, Mich., March 11 Fri Mar 11, 2011 3:47pm EST

BIRMINGHAM, Mich., March 11 (Reuters) - The Chinese auto market's sales growth in 2011 will be close to last year's 32 percent increase despite a slow start, a top Chinese industry executive said on Friday.

The growth should be fairly close to the 2010 rate, Xing Huang, chairman of state-owned auto parts maker China Auto Parts & Accessories Corp (CAPAC), said at a Detroit Economic Club event here. He was speaking through a translator.

Sales in China hit 17.2 million last year, according to J.D. Power, following growth rates of 33 percent in 2009 and 48 percent in 2008. However, the research firm forecast growth to slow to 11 percent this year.

In February, car sales in China rose only 2.6 percent -- the slowest pace in 23 months -- as a pre-holiday buying spree led to a subsequent drop-off in demand in the world's largest auto market. [ID:nTOE72006A]

The more subdued growth pattern is expected to extend into the coming months now that automakers are relying mostly on rational demand, not government tax incentives, to drive sales, industry observers have said.

However, Xing said he does not see the growth in China slowing in the next few years. He said the Chinese automakers will probably grow at a faster rate than joint ventures with foreign companies because the domestic brands have lower price tags.

As one reason for the continued growth, CAPAC President Kangren Chen cited 150 million motorcycle owners in China who want to own cars.

However, a few pessimists, such as Rao Da, head of the semi-official China Passenger Car Association, have projected a more than 10 percent fall of auto sales for the full year. [ID:nTOE70B071] (Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis)