China's Chery Auto aims for 18 pct car sales growth

SHANGHAI, Feb 16 (Reuters) - China’s Chery Automobile Co aims to grow its car sales by nearly a fifth in 2009 banking largely on government support to bolster demand amid a slowing economy.

Chery aims to sell 419,000 cars this year, up 17.7 percent from 356,000 units in 2008, its chairman Yi Tongyao said in a statement on its website over the weekend. Chery, the maker of QQ, the country’s best-selling compact sedan, reported a rare decline of 6.56 percent in 2008 as the global recession took a toll on the once-booming industry.

But its Janury sales hit a monthly record of more than 35,000 cars, the statement said, making it China's largest national car brand, lagging only the local ventures of General Motors GM.N, Volkswagen AG VOWG.DE, Hyundai Motor 005380.KS and Nissan Motor 7201.T.

Analysts attributed the rebound in January sales to Beijing’s recent policy incentives, including halving the auto purchase tax for cars with engine sizes below 1.6 litres.

“The policies are a big help for companies like Chery and Geely as they are mostly playing at the lower-end segment,” said Yi Junfeng, an analyst with Changjiang Securities.

Geely Automobile Holdings 0175.HK said last month that it aimed to grow its car sales by 25 percent in 2009.

Great Wall Wall Motor Co 2333.HK, China's biggest SUV maker which is diversifying into small car production, has targeted a 70 percent jump in its vehicle sales this year, a company executive told Reuters last month.

Car sales growth in China slowed to a single-digit rate in 2008 for the first time in at least 10 years, spurring government steps to bolster the industry, one of the pillars for the world’s third-largest economy.

Chery has said it plans to launch more than 10 new models in 2009. (Reporting by Michael Wei and Fang Yan, Editing by Jacqueline Wong)