China auto sales surge in July, log fourth straight month of gains

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s auto sales in July climbed 16.4% from a year earlier, the fourth consecutive month of gains as the world’s biggest vehicle market comes off lows hit during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

Sales rose to 2.11 million vehicles in July but are still down 12.7% for the year to date at 12.37 million vehicles, according to wholesale sales data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

The association expects auto sales to fall around 10% this year barring a second wave of virus infections which could deepen the slide to around 20%.

In a promising sign for many global automakers which have invested heavily in electric vehicles for the China market, sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs) ended 12 straight months of decline with a 19.3% jump to 98,000 units.

“The sales growth shows NEV makers and customers are getting used to the new normal after the government cut subsidies last year,” said Xu Haidong, a senior CAAM official.

CAAM expects NEV sales of 1.1 million vehicles this year, a drop of around 11% from last year.

NEVs include battery-powered electric, plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Sales of trucks and other commercial vehicles, which constitute around a quarter of the market, surged 59.4%, driven by government investment in infrastructure as well as tougher emission rules introduced this year. Sales of passenger vehicles rose 8.5%.

Automakers which have reported sales growth in July include Great Wall Motor Co Ltd 601633.SS, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd 0175.HK and Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T.

Haitong International analyst Shi Ji said that current levels of inventory in the industry seemed high, which could prompt dealers to offer bigger discounts.

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Edwina Gibbs