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By Yilei Sun and Norihiko Shirouzu

BEIJING – China’s auto market has rebounded smartly from the COVID-19 crash in recent months, executives said on Saturday, as a rare in-person trade show was dominated by talk of recovery in the world’s biggest car market.

While conditions have improved vastly from lockdowns that froze economic activity in the country where the pandemic erupted, the Beijing autoshow is a far cry from the usual ebullience as fewer attend, new models are scant and prospects remain uncertain.

Doubts remain over the durability of the recovery, but the focus for now is on bright spots such as strong demand for mid-sized to large luxury vehicles and a flood of interest – and investment – in electric vehicles.

“The recovery in the Chinese market has been very remarkable, and our key segments have returned to the previous year’s level if not slightly better,” Nissan Motor Co. CEO Makoto Uchida told a news conference via a video link from Japan. 

“I expect this rebound to continue, but we need to watch for signs of trouble,” said Uchida, who announced Japan’s second-biggest carmaker would launch a number of new vehicles in China over the next five years as it struggles to return to profit.

China’s auto sales rose 11.6% in August from a year earlier, the fifth straight monthly rise after plunging during the lockdown.

When almost all residents were told to stay home in February, sales collapsed by a record 79% to their lowest since 2005.

Executives at Germany’s BMW and Guangzhou-based GAC, which has partnerships with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., forecast full-year sales growth in China, while Chongqing Changan Automobile predicted the same for its local joint venture with Ford Motor Co.

Great Wall Motor Co., China’s top pickup truck maker, aims to boost overseas sales this year, helping to ease an overall drop caused by COVID-19.

IN PHOTO: People wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak enter the venue of the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, or Auto China show, in Beijing, China September 26, 2020. REUTERS/Yilei Sun

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