Models perform at an auto show in Qingdao, Shandong province. [Photo by Wang Haibin/For China Daily]
Vehicle sales in 2016 see biggest rise in three years
China's passenger vehicle sales last year saw their fastest growth since 2013, but analysts said the momentum will not continue this year.
Statistics from the China Passenger Car Association showed that dealers sold 23.9 million sedans, SUVs and MPVs in 2016, a 15.9 percent rise year-on-year, more than double the estimates of several industry organizations, including the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, made at the start of the year.
Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the CPCA, said the performance was mainly due to a 50 percent tax cut on cars with engines no larger than 1.6 litters, and Chinese motorists' enthusiasm for SUVs.
The role of the tax cut was particularly obvious in December, which saw the year's highest monthly sales of 2.76 million cars as people rushed to dealerships before the policy expired by the end of the year.
Yale Zhang, managing director of research firm Automotive Foresight, said: "The policy was like a huge roadside billboard for the car industry, constantly reminding people that there are some models they should consider buying."
Despite the authorities putting in place a 25 percent tax cut for this year, this would still mean that customers will have to pay an extra 5,000 yuan ($710) for models priced at around 200,000 yuan, such as the Volkswagen Sagitar or Toyota Camry.
SUVs sales grew 43.6 percent year-on-year in 2016, the fastest-growing segment in the market.
One example of their popularity was that Great Wall Motor Co Ltd sold 80,495 Haval H6 SUVs in December, which means one was sold in every 33 seconds. More than 580,000 H6 were sold in the year.
But experts said that the growth rate would plummet now that a huge number of customers had finished purchases in advance and the overall economic growth is somewhat slowing down.
Cui expected the figure would fall to around 6.5 percent in 2017 while Zhang and John Zeng, managing director of LMC Automotive Consulting (Shanghai), gave an even less optimistic estimate of 2 to 3 percent for the year.
Zeng said the market would see negative growth without the 25 percent tax cut on small engine cars that took effect in January.
However, Zeng is against too much stimulus, insisting that the market should have the final say.
He said the favorable policies are like athletes using drugs that produce abnormally high but unsustainable performances.