BEIJING -- China's auto sales plunged 12 per cent in September, adding to economic challenges for the country's leaders amid a worsening tariff fight with Washington.

Sales in the biggest global market fell to 2 million sedans, SUVs and minivans, an industry group, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, reported Friday.

Demand has weakened as economic growth cooled after Beijing tightened lending controls to rein in a debt boom.

With the latest contraction, sales growth for the first three quarters of the year fell to just 0.6 per cent, down from 2017's already anemic full-year rate of 1.4 per cent.

The slowdown is a setback for global automakers that look to China to drive revenue and are spending heavily to develop models for local tastes.

Sales of SUVs, normally the industry's brightest spot, shrank 10.1 per cent to 872,800, according to CAAM.

Sales of electric and gasoline-electric hybrid autos that Beijing is spending heavily to promote grew strongly.

September purchases of electrics rose 66.2 per cent over a year earlier to 541,000. Hybrid sales gained 146.9 per cent to 181,000.

Automakers are rolling out dozens of electrics but gasoline-powered models supply their profits.

  • General Motors Co. said sales in the three months ending in September declined 14.9 per cent from a year ago to 835,934. For the first nine months of the year, sales declined 2.5 per cent to 2.7 million.
  • Volkswagen AG sales in China and Hong Kong fell 5.7 per cent to 383,500. Year-to-date sales rose 5 per cent to 3 million.
  • Nissan Motor Co. sales shrank 0.8 per cent to 141,195. For the first nine months, sales rose 7.4 per cent to 1.1 million.
  • BMW AG sales, including MINI vehicles, gained 13.2 per cent to 59,616. Year-to-date sales were up 5.3 per cent at 459,629