Andrew Peaple: China’s Undriven Automobiles

From the Wall Street Journal:

When it comes to Chinese data, even the most clear-cut stories aren’t as simple as they seem.

Auto sales are the latest figures to draw a quizzical look. There’s no doubt they’ve been rising fast — J.D. Power’s latest report shows a rise of 38% for the first 10 months of 2009 from a year earlier.

The explanation seems straightforward enough. At the beginning of the year Beijing cut the sales tax for some cars. That stimulated consumers in a country where auto ownership rates are still very low.

Not so fast, cry those who’ve noticed a kink in the story: While auto demand has surged, sales of gasoline are broadly flat. Sinopec, which operates the highest number of gas stations in China, saw gasoline sales fall 1.2% in the first half of the year from a year earlier.

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