China March vehicle sales may hit record high -paper

SHANGHAI, April 8 (Reuters) - China’s vehicle sales may post a monthly record for March, topping a previous historical high of about 1.06 million units set in March 2008, the official Shanghai Securities News said on Wednesday.

China’s 14 auto groups, which account for roughly 90 percent of the country’s vehicle sales, sold 1.03 million vehicles last month, Chen Bin, head of the industry coordination department of the National Development and Reform Commission, was quoted as saying.

Chen did not say how many passenger cars the big auto groups sold in March. Car sales reached 700,500 in March 2008, an all-time monthly high, official data showed.

China’s vehicle sales growth slowed in 2008 to its lowest annual rate in more than a decade as the global financial crisis took its toll, although China overtook the United States as the world’s largest auto market in January of this year as sales were relatively buoyant while U.S. car sales plunged.

Demand in China picked up sharply in February, with monthly vehicle sales topping 800,000 units for the first time in eight months, helped by Beijing policy initiatives to support the market. [ID:nSHA95534]

Those policies, introduced at the start of the year, included scrapping certain road fees and halving sales taxes on small vehicles, and have increased the number of buyers in showrooms nationwide, industry executives and analysts said.

The government is also handing out subsidies to owners who trade in high-emission farm vehicles for more fuel-efficient, cleaner vehicles, as it moves to bolster consumer demand in rural areas.

The subsidies have pushed up pickup and small truck sales, with General Motors' GM.N commercial vehicle venture in south China recording 19.7 percent year-on-year growth in vehicle sales in January. [ID:nSHA45799]. (Reporting by Fang Yan; Editing by Edmund Klamann)