BEIJING (AP) -- China's growth in auto sales decelerated further in March and local brands lost market share in the face of intense foreign competition, an industry group reported Friday.
Sales rose 7.9 percent to 1.7 million vehicles, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. That was down from February's 11.3 percent growth.
Sales of Chinese domestic brands contracted by 2.3 percent to 672,000 vehicles, the association said. Their market share shrank by 4.1 percentage points from a year earlier to 39.3 percent.
China's explosive auto sales growth has cooled steadily since peaking above 40 percent in 2009 as rapid economic expansion slows.
The economy grew by 7.7 percent last year, tying 2012 for the lowest rate since 1999. The government's official growth target this year is 7.5 percent and, in a sign officials already worry they might fail to meet that, Beijing launched a mini-stimulus last month with higher spending on construction of railways and other public works.
General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen and other global auto brands are looking to China, the biggest auto market, to drive sales and are spending heavily to suit local tastes.
The global majors are reporting steady sales gains, but part of that comes at the expense of smaller Chinese brands.
Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 6.6 percent to 2.2 million, the association said.
General Motors Co. said sales of GM-brand vehicles by the company and its Chinese partners rose 19.9 percent to monthly record of 257,770. Ford Motor Co. said sales rose 28 percent to 103,815 vehicles, crossing the 100,000 mark for the first time.
Japan's Toyota Motor Co. said sales more than doubled from a year earlier, rising 119 percent to 90,400 vehicles. Rival Nissan Motor Co. said sales rose 26 percent to 115,900 vehicles.
South Korea's Kia Motor Co. reported a 14.2 percent rise in sales to 55,208 vehicles.
China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (in Chinese): www.caam.org.cn