SHANGHAI -- Chinese vehicle imports more than doubled between January and April over the same period of 2002, Xinhua news agency cited official figures on Monday as saying, as import tariffs continued to slide after WTO accession.
China imported 61,100 vehicles worth $1.59 billion in the first four months, up 113 percent on the year, Xinhua quoted customs figures as showing.
Of them, 34,100 were passenger cars, a rise of 97.6 percent on year, the official news agency quoted the Ministry of Commerce as saying.
Imports were expected to hit 180,000 vehicles this year, state media quoted industry figures as saying last month. Still, that is an increase of just 42 percent from 2002's 127,000 vehicles.
Rising imports pose a small but significant threat to foreign automakers producing in China as well as domestic car makers in a market shielded by high duties on imported autos.
China has pledged to slash tariffs on auto imports to 25 percent by July 2006 from between 40 and 50 percent now and abolish all quotas by January 2005, in line with commitments made upon joining the World Trade Organization in late 2001.
Foreign automakers like General Motors Corp. and Germany's Volkswagen AG are in a market which has ballooned in recent years alongside rising personal incomes, the product of robust economic growth.
Annual car sales in China broke the one million mark for the first time last year, surging 56 percent to 1.126 million. Car output hit 1.09 million, up 55 percent.
Mainland factories produced just under 566,000 cars in the first four months of this year, up 110 percent year on year, the State Statistical Bureau said last week.