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China auto sales lack India's pep but still cruising

SUVs drive a fourth straight month of growth in September

CHONGQING -- New auto sales in China rose 5.7% on the year in September, marking a fourth consecutive month of gains, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said Thursday.

That fell short of the double-digit growth seen in India, but an official at the Chinese trade body called the pace "appropriate." The 2,709,100 cars sold in China in September alone equal roughly half of the annual volume in Japan.

Passenger vehicle sales rose 3.3% to 2,342,600 units, driven by the popularity of sport utility vehicles, whose sales climbed 10.5% to 970,000 units.

Commercial vehicles jumped 23.9% to 366,600 units as demand from logistics companies rose on steady coal prices and stricter loading rules.

General Motors' Chinese sales rose 6.6% to 366,300 vehicles, with the mainstay Buick brand faring well. SUVs under the low-price Baojun brand also sold well.

Volkswagen of Germany saw a 7.5% increase in sales to 310,500 vehicles.

Hyundai Motor, which used to be the third-biggest player in China after GM and Volkswagen, continues to struggle. Sales at joint venture Beijing Hyundai Motor shrank nearly 20% in September, according to Chinese media. Tensions over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea are prompting many customers to switch to competitors.

Japanese automakers Nissan Motor, Honda Motor and Toyota Motor each saw sales increases of 14-15%. Volvo Car parent Zhejiang Geely Holding Group enjoyed a 42.2% jump in sales, and its monthly volume topped 100,000 units.

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