SHANGHAI — U.S. auto giant General Motors said Monday its sales in China hit a record high in 2011, despite a broader slowdown in the world’s largest vehicle market. GM and its joint ventures in China sold around 2.55 million units last year, up more than 8.0 percent from the previous record of 2.35 million in 2010, the company said in a statement. “GM stayed ahead of the competition despite a slowdown in the growth of industry demand,” Kevin Wale, president of GM China Group, said in the statement. China, which overtook the United States to become the world’s top auto market in 2009, has become increasingly important for global players such as GM and Germany’s Volkswagen Group. In December alone, GM’s sales in China rose 9.8 percent annually to 196,797 units. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, which tracks auto sales and production in the country, has yet to release figures for all of 2011. However, association officials have forecast that annual growth for the whole of 2011 will be just five percent, down from an earlier forecast of 10-15 percent.
Sales soared more than 32 percent in 2010 but have since lost some steam amid a slowdown in economic growth and after China phased out incentives, such as tax breaks for small-engine vehicles. China has moved to protect its domestic auto industry in recent weeks, slapping import tariffs on some U.S. passenger cars and sports utility vehicles, and saying it would “withdraw support” for foreign investment in the sector. But the lure of the massive market remains. Volkswagen said last week that it would build a new plant in the eastern city of Ningbo capable of producing 300,000 vehicles annually once the facility is completed by 2014.