UPDATE 1-China's Nov vehicle sales edge up; industry body sees weak spell ahead

(Adds CAAM official’s comments)

BEIJING, Dec 11 (Reuters) - China’s vehicle sales grew a slow 0.7 percent in November, prompting an industry association official to strike a grim note for auto sales in the world’s biggest auto market this year and beyond.

Sales last month totalled 2.96 million vehicles, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) showed.

Sales in the first 11 months of this year totalled 25.8 million vehicles, up 3.6 percent from the same period a year ago, CAAM said.

November marked a sixth consecutive month of gains, but Xu Haidong, one of the CAAM officials who briefed reporters on the latest sales results, said China’s auto sales are set to grow “no more than 4 percent” this year, weaker than the 5 percent annual growth forecast at the outset of the year.

The official said CAAM expects sales growth rates to remain weak next year as well.

Xu ascribed the slower-than-expected growth this year, as well as his forecast for next year to underlying challenges in the market, which saw a slow start to the year due to tax incentives on smaller-engine cars being phased out.

Sales of new-energy vehicles (NEV), meanwhile, rose 83 percent in November from a year earlier to about 119,000 vehicles amid a government push to support the sector and shift away from traditional petrol-engine cars in the long term.

NEV sales in the January-November period totalled 609,000 vehicles, up 51.4 percent from the same period a year ago.

Xu said the industry should be able to achieve CAAM’s target to sell 700,000 NEVs this year. He noted NEV volume next year could climb above the one million vehicle mark.

NEVs refer to all-electric battery vehicles and plug-in petrol-electric hybrids.

China’s policymakers have set strict production and sales quotas for NEVs which automakers must meet starting in 2019, a move that is prompting a flurry of electric car deals and new launches of electric and hybrid models as firms scramble to ensure they do not fall short. (Reporting By Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Sunil Nair)