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China auto sales fall again in 2019

BEIJING (AP) — China’s auto sales fell for a second year in 2019 as a trade war with Washington and an economic slowdown depressed consumer confidence and demand for electric vehicles weakened, an industry group reported Monday.

The downturn is squeezing global and Chinese automakers that are spending billions of dollars to meet government mandates to sell electric vehicles.

Sales in the industry’s biggest global market declined 9.6% from 2018 levels to 21.4 million sedans, SUVs and minivans, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, was off 8.2% at 25.8 million.

After two decades of explosive growth, Chinese auto sales fell 4.1% in 2018 as unease over the tariff war with President Donald Trump and slowing economic growth prompted consumers to put off big purchases.

Forecasters expect sales to level off this year, but that would be more than 3 million units below 2017’s peak of 24.7 million.

“Chinese industry sales saw signs of stabilization in 2019,” said Bernstein analysts Robin Zhu, Luke Hong and Xuan Ji in a report last week. “We think consensus expectations for a flat volume year in 2020 are reasonable but consider higher more likely than lower.”

December sales were off 0.1% from a year earlier, CAAM said, an improvement over double-digit declines in previous months. The group gave no December sales total, but based on other CAAM data it would be about 2.2 million vehicles.

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