China auto sales fall in April but loss narrows

BEIJING (AP) — China’s auto sales declined again in April but losses narrowed in a sign the industry’s biggest global market is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic as Beijing eases anti-disease controls, according to an industry group.

Sales of SUVs, sedans and minivans were down 2.6 per cent from a year earlier at 1.5 million, an improvement over March’s 48.4 per cent contraction, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) reported.

“The auto market has obvious signs of recovery,” the group said in a statement.

CAAM said SUV sales showed a “small increase” gave no details. It said sales of other vehicle categories were lower.

Sales plunged 81.7 per cent in February, hammering global automakers that look to China to drive revenue growth, after dealerships and other businesses were shut down to to stop the virus’s spread.

Photo released by Xinhua News Agency shows workers at an assembly line for Dongfeng Passenger Vehicle Company in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei Province on March 24

The ruling Communist Party started reopening factories, restaurants and stores in March after declaring victory over the outbreak. But consumers who are uneasy about job losses or a resurgence of the virus are reluctant to make big purchases.

For the first four months of the year, passenger vehicle sales were down 35.3 per cent from a year earlier at 4.4 million, according to CAAM.

Demand already was weak due to consumer jitters about a tariff war with Washington and slower economic growth. Sales fell 9.6 per cent last year, their second straight annual decline.

The downturn is squeezing brands that are investing billions of dollars to develop electric vehicles under pressure to meet government sales targets.

April sales of battery-powered and gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles fell 26.5 per cent from a year ago in April to 72,000. For the first four months of the year, sales were off 43.4 per cent at 205,000.

Demand for electrics weakened last year after Beijing reduced subsidies that helped to make China their biggest market, accounting for half of global sales.

The government announced last month it will extend subsidies through 2020 to shore up sales.