China auto sales fall again in 2019 amid trade war

The trade war and economic weakness kept sales down

It was another down year for vehicle sales in China as a trade war with Washington and an economic slowdown fueled consumer anxiety and demand for electric vehicles weakened, an industry group reported Monday.

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

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The downturn is squeezing global and Chinese automakers at a time when they are spending billions of dollars to meet government targets to sell electric vehicles.

 Ford Motor Co.'s China sales fell for the third year in a row in 2019, dropping to less than half of what it sold at its zenith in 2016, and the company said the situation for the broader market is likely to get worse in 2020.

FORD'S CHINA SALES DROP 26 PERCENT IN 2019

Ford sold 567,854 vehicles last year in China, down 26.1 percent from a year earlier, the company said in a statement Monday. While that was an improvement from 2018's 36.9 percent decline, the total number of vehicles sold was less than half of the 1.27 million figure reached in its peak year of 2016.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, Ford's sales dropped 14.7 percent.

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GM saw a 15 percent drop in 2019 sales from a year earlier to 3.09 million vehicles, said General Motors in a statement.

The company delivered 3.65 million vehicles in 2018 and 4.04 million units in 2017.

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After two decades of explosive growth, China suffered its first annual decline in auto sales in 2018 as unease over the tariff war with President  Trump and slowing economic growth prompted consumers to put off big purchases.

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

Sales of electric and gasoline-electric hybrid sedans and SUVs in 2019 sank 4 percent over a year earlier to 1.2 million. That would still make China the technology's biggest market by far, accounting for at least half of global purchases.

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Monthly sales of electric vehicles rose by double digits in early 2019 but plunged after Beijing ended government subsidies to buyers in July. Regulators shifted the burden of promoting the technology to automakers by imposing mandatory sales targets.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.