China’s vehicle imports almost doubled in the first eight months of the year from the same period of 2002 to reach a record $US9.3 billion as the industry sped ahead to meet demand, Reuters reported, citing the Xinhua news agency.

Reuters said the 94.7% year-on-year rise in imports was slightly slower than the annual 109.2% growth seen in the first seven months.
Xinhua did not provide a breakdown by vehicle type, nor mention the total number of vehicles or parts imported, the report added.

According to Reuters, in the first seven months, almost half of vehicle imports were cars, representing 61,400 units.

Chinese state media reported in April, Reuters noted, that imports of vehicles are expected to hit 180,000 units this year against 127,000 vehicles in 2002, though this is still just a fraction of the number of cars Chinese factories are rolling out.

The State Statistical Bureau said earlier in this month that car output over the first eight months rose 89.7% year-on-year to 1.25 million units – surpassing the 1.06 million in all of 2002, Reuters added.

According to Reuters, Xinhua said vehicle exports rose 66.3% in the first eight months to $US239 million, with 60,835 vehicles being sent overseas.

Reuters said China mainly exports buses, light trucks and agricultural vehicles rather than cars, which are almost all sold locally to satisfy huge local demand.

Total vehicle exports, including parts, were worth $2.98 billion in the same period, the official news agency said without providing a comparison, Reuters added.

Reuters said that rising imports pose a small but significant threat to foreign vehicle makers producing in China, such as General Motors and Volkswagen, as well as domestic car makers in a market shielded by high duties on imported vehicles.

China has pledged to slash tariffs on vehicle imports to 25% by July 2006 from between 40 and 50% now and abolish all quotas by January 2005, in line with commitments made upon joining the World Trade Organisation in late 2001, Reuters noted.

Annual car sales in China broke the one million mark for the first time last year, surging 56% to 1.126 million, the report added.