China’s domestic car market continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.

UK-based analyst Jato Dynamics, whose specialties include tracking vehicle specifications world-wide, said first-half sales for locally built cars were up 46% to 2,965,430 units, year on year.

“Chinese manufacturers are posting staggering growth figures,” said Jato international sales and marketing director Nasir Shah.

“Precise data is still hard to gather in the market, but it’s clear to see that the Chinese car market is expanding at a rate never before seen in an international market. Furthermore, there’s no sign of the growth abating.”

Volkswagen was China’s top-selling car brand (up 32.9%), ahead of Wuling (unreported in 2006), Chery (43.6%), Toyota (65.2%) and Honda (30.3%).

“In a fast-growing market such as this, there is significant investment in new products, new brands and in the distribution networks. As a result, many manufacturers have recorded significantly increased volumes over the past year,” added Shah.

Jato highlighted Brilliance Jinbei (up 145%), Hafei (174% although full volumes may not have been reported in 2006) and Mitsubishi (98.6%).

Of the European brands, Audi (38.2%) and BMW (65.8%) are performing very strongly.

Of the models for which the full volumes have been reported, the market leader is the Volkswagen Santana (up 31%), ahead of the Buick Excelle [a GM Daewoo design] (5.1%), Volkswagen Jetta [a previous generation model], Toyota Camry (a new market entry), Chery QQ (5.3%) and FAW N3.

Jato said Wuling, Chana and Hafei have not reported model totals for all vehicles sold so the performance of their individual models could not be satisfactorily determined. This is significant because the Wuling Sunshine, Light and Hongtu passenger micro-van models may well be competing for the position of best-selling car in China for the first six months of 2007.

Jato also noted that, in a rapidly evolving market such as China, it is common for models to remain virtually unchanged while the brand name changes – eg last year’s Mazda Family is this year’s Haima Family).

“The number of domestic manufacturers, some large and some small, is very high, and there is some consolidation occurring within the market. These factors can make comparison of brand performances over time more problematic than in other worldwide markets,” said Shah.

Echoing his comments, SAIC and Nanjing, who respectively separately make and sell Roewe 750 and MG-branded versions of what was once MG Rover’s 75 line, at the weekend announced a new ‘cooperation’ deal.