UPDATE 1-China's Jan vehicle sales jump, seen moderating

Thu Feb 7, 2013 4:38am EST

* Jan vehicle sales strong on low 2012 base

* Growth rate likely to slow in Feb

* Major Japanese carmakers post growth in Jan

By Wan Xu and Jonathan Standing

BEIJING, Feb 7 (Reuters) - China's vehicle sales jumped 46.4 percent in January from a year earlier, the strongest pace of growth in almost three years largely due to a low base effect from last year, and the pace is expected to moderate from this month.

The week-long Spring Festival holiday, when dealers shorten working hours, fell in January last year but will occur in February in 2013.

Given the difference in the timing, industry experts said it was necessary to compare the combined January-February data to gauge actual demand.

"The first two months' data are usually skewed because of the holiday," said Cui Dongshu, deputy secretary-general of the China Passenger Car Association.

A total of 2 million passenger cars, trucks and buses were sold in China last month, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said on Thursday.

That compared with 1.81 million vehicles in December, which had been a gain of 7.1 percent from a year earlier.

The January growth rate was the fastest since April 2010's 34.4 percent increase.

CAAM said last month it forecast 2013 sales to be around 20.7 million, up 7 percent year-on-year.

Vehicle sales rose a relatively lacklustre 4.3 percent in 2012, weighed down by sluggish sales by Japanese carmakers, which were hit by anti-Japan protests that erupted in mid-September following a territorial row between Tokyo and Beijing.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd, Honda Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp all reported double-digit growth in January sales, the first gain since the outbreak of the diplomatic dispute.

Encouraged by the sales recovery, which was also partly due to a low base effect from last year, Nissan and Honda have started to bring back production capacity at plants.