BEIJING (Reuters) - China's vehicle sales fell for a third consecutive year in 2020, but year-on-year sales rose for a ninth straight month in December as the country continued to lead the global automobile industry's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
China's auto sales fell 1.9% to 25.3 million vehicles last year from 2019.
Sales in the world's biggest auto market rose 6.4% in December from a year earlier to reach 2.83 million vehicles. But the pace of growth slowed sharply from a 12.6% year-on-year rise in November.
China's automobile industry was hard hit by the pandemic in early last year but started to bounce back in the second quarter of 2020 along with the rest of the economy as the country managed to get the coronavirus largely under control.
Automakers including Toyota and Great Wall Motor reported sales growth in China last year.
Passenger vehicle sales fell 6% for the full year of 2020, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) showed.
For commercial vehicles, which constitute around a quarter of the overall market, sales surged 19%, driven by government investment in infrastructure and as buyers upgraded to comply with tougher emissions rules.
Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs) in 2020 increased 11% from 2019 to 1.37 million units. NEVs include battery-powered electric, plug-in petrol-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
CAAM said last month that it expects vehicle sales to rise by around 4% to 26.3 million vehicles in 2021, thanks to supportive government policies and automakers' discounts.
(Reporting by Yilei Sun; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)