Vehicle sales hit a monthly high of 1.1 million in March, more than US sales for the third straight month, despite double-digit declines in most other markets.

"I have only three words: excited, excited, excited!'' Zhang Xiaoyu, the
chairman of the Association of China Auto Engineering, said.

"After only 18 years of development, we may become the world's leading
auto market."

Rapid growth

Rapid growth in the automobile sector has prompted carmakers from around the world to focus on China, the world's second largest market.

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Carmakers converge on Shanghai show
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Manufacturers from around the world are launching 13 new models at the increasingly high-profile motor show in China's commercial capital.

The Porsche car company, which unveiled its Panamera luxury car at the launch of the show on Monday, said its decision to reveal the vehicle in China signalled the rising importance of the country's motor market.

"We treat this as one of our most important shows," Helmut Broeker, the chief executive officer of Porsche China, said.

"This is the first time we have launched a product line in Asia and outside our core countries."

Atsuyoshi Hyogo, the head of Honda's China operations, said: "We are seeing a major shift in the battleground within the global automobile market from the US to China."

The Chinese government revived car sales after a slump in 2008 with tax cuts and rebates that resulted in the increased popularity of small vehicles.

However, analysts have warned that China's surge to the forefront of the industry is mainly attributed to deteriorating conditions in the US and international markets.