China auto sales plunge in February amid virus shutdown

FILE - In this April 16, 2019, file photo, attendees take a close look at cars from BYD at the Auto Shanghai 2019 show in Shanghai. Chinas auto sales plunged 81.7% in February, 2020,  from a year ago after Beijing shut down much of the economy to fight a virus outbreak, adding to problems for an industry that already was struggling with shrinking demand. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
FILE - In this April 16, 2019, file photo, attendees take a close look at cars from BYD at the Auto Shanghai 2019 show in Shanghai. Chinas auto sales plunged 81.7% in February, 2020, from a year ago after Beijing shut down much of the economy to fight a virus outbreak, adding to problems for an industry that already was struggling with shrinking demand. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BEIJING – China’s auto sales plunged 81.7% in February from a year ago after much of the economy was shut down to fight a virus outbreak, an industry group reported Thursday, adding to problems for automakers already struggling with shrinking demand.

Sales of SUVs, sedans and minivans fell to 224,000, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, fell 79.1% to 310,000.

Auto dealerships, cinemas and other consumer businesses were ordered to stay closed after the Lunar New Year holiday to help contain the virus that emerged in central China in December.

Sales “fell sharply due to the severe impact of the new coronavirus epidemic,” a CAAM statement said.

The government is easing controls in many areas to revive economic activity. Auto factories are reopening, but tens of millions of city dwellers still are under travel and other curbs that weigh on consumer spending.

Sales in the first two months of 2020 were down 43.6% from a year earlier at 1.8 million units. Total vehicle sales were off 42% at 2.2 million.

Demand already was weak due to consumer jitters about a tariff war with Washington, slower economic growth and possible job losses. Sales fell 9.6% last year, their second straight annual decline.

The downturn is a blow to global automakers looking to China to drive revenue growth amid weak demand in the United States and Europe.