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It’s a small victory but a big deal for those looking for good news in car sales data.

Wholesales of passenger cars in China fell a mere 43% last month, half the decline in February, says the China Assn. of Automobile Manufacturers.

Xi’an, China, skyline (Getty Images)

CAAM’s numbers indicate factory sales to dealers, not the pace of retail sales to consumers. But the relative month-to-month improvement suggests that China’s car dealers are beginning to restock their inventories. Dealer orders dried up in February as the coronavirus epidemic grew.

Revival Ahead

Car sales in China fell 8% to 25.8 million vehicles in 2019. In early January, CAAM predicted wholesales this year would slip another 2%. Now the group estimates that volume will shrink 10% year on year in January-June and be down only 5% in the second half of the year.

Those declines continue to hit China’s market for “new energy” vehicles, meaning hybrids, all-electric and fuel cell models, Reuters notes. CAAM says shipments of such vehicles totaled 53,000 units in March, the ninth consecutive month of decline.

The association’s figures exclude Tesla. That’s partly because the carmaker doesn’t regularly release monthly output statistics for its new factory in Shanghai. Besides, the company doesn’t generate wholesales, because it delivers its output directly to customers.

Still, Tesla boasted earlier this week that it sold a record 10,200 electric cars in China last month, most of them made in its 4-month-old plant in Shanghai.

Workers Return

Separately, CAAM has good news to report on the employment end of vehicle production in China.

The association says a survey of assembly hubs in China reveals that virtually all auto-related output has resumed, at least partially. The trade group says nine in 10 auto workers are back on the job in China.

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