* China’s 13.5 mln-plus sales top previous 10 mln target
* Overtakes U.S. as world’s top auto market
* Growth in 2010 seen slower but solid (Adds analysts expectations, forecast for 2010)
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Jan 8 (Reuters) - China sold more than 13.5 million vehicles in 2009, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday, overtaking the United States to become the world’s largest auto market as government policy initiatives spurred demand.
The final figure compared with annual sales of 10.4 million cars and light truck sold in the United States, the lowest level in 27 years. [ID:nN05113777] It was also well above the 10 million in vehicle sales that China had originally targeted for 2009.
The Chinese tally, which also includes heavy vehicles, is still higher than that of the U.S. after deducting roughly 650,000 units of heavy trucks, according to Orient Securities, making it the world’s biggest auto market.
For a factbox on China’s auto market, click on: [ID:nTOE60607W]
The country’s official auto sales data for 2009 is scheduled to be released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers next week, but the figure reported by Xinhua is in line with analysts’ expectations. [ID:nTOE5BR03M]
Industry observers attributed China’s strong auto sales largely to government policy initiatives, which had effectively lifted market sentiment and attracted buyers back to showrooms.
A low comparative base in 2008, when car sales growth slowed to a single-digit rate for the first time in at least 10 years, also helped inflate the 2009 rate, they said.
China has been a major bright spot amid global recession and a safe haven for battered industry giants such as General Motors [GM.UL] and Ford Motor (F.N).
The market was likely to return to a slower but more rational growth rate of roughly 10 percent in 2010 on continued policy support from the government even though the renewed tax incentives for small cars were not as aggressive as expected, analysts said. [ID:nTOE589909L] (Reporting by Michael Wei, Simon Rabinovitch and Fang Yan; Editing by Doug Young)