Chinese car sales soared to a record in recent months on government incentives, but the same money tap that turbocharged sales could easily be turned off in 2010 if Beijing frets about an overheating economy.
China's passenger car sales in September rose a hefty 83.6 percent from a year earlier, with just over 1 million cars sold in the month, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, China's biggest automaker, SAIC Motor Corp (600104.SS), also said sales were racing ahead, up 47 percent in the first nine months from a year ago.
The strong sales followed similar reports in recent days from most of the industry's top players, including Geely Automobile (0175.HK), Dongfeng Automobile (600006.SS)(0489.HK) and the China units of General Motors GM.UL and Volkswagen (VOWG.DE).
Everyone has benefited from government policies supporting domestic consumption as part of Beijing's multibillion-dollar stimulus program in the global downturn.
In January, China's auto market overtook the United States as the world's largest, and has been a leading bright spot in the struggling global auto industry this year.
Analysts said the loose money policies that have propelled the industry are set to continue at least till the end of the year.
Auto sales rely heavily on policies, just like the stock market. It's hard to predict sales outlook for next year as we don't know whether the government would renew the tax cuts for small cars after they expired at the year end, said Qin Xuwen, an analyst with Orient Securities.
If they indeed cut sales tax on mid-range sedans next year as many had hoped, it could be another bumper year ahead, he added.
All of China's publicly traded domestic car makers are likely to give some outlook for the rest of the year when they report third-quarter results in the next few weeks.
But regardless of how they end the year, companies are likely to see their sales growth cool down in 2010, said Ji Junfeng, an analyst with Changjiang Securities.
They're not likely to see a repeat of the explosive year-on-year growth in car sales in 2010 as the comparative base will be much higher, he said. It's true that government policies have helped push up auto sales this year, and weak demand in 2008 also played a role in it.
The strong growth has also turbocharged profits and shares for Chinese automakers, which are required by the Shanghai Stock Exchange to announce if their profits will rise or fall by more than 50 percent in any given period.
SAIC did just that, saying on Tuesday its net profit for first nine months of the year jumped more than 70 percent.
Chongqing Changan Automobile Co (000625.SZ), a Ford Motor (F.N) partner in China, also said its third-quarter net profit was estimated between 267.2 million yuan ($39 million) and 327.2 million yuan, reversing a net loss of 106.64 million yuan a year earlier.
SAIC shares have nearly quadrupled this year, while Changan's Shanghai-listed shares have more than tripled and Dongfeng's shares are up 58 percent.
Geely's Hong Kong-listed shares have tripled year to date, including a 7 percent jump on Tuesday to a nine year high after it reported its September car sales doubled.
While the companies have become investor favorites, some worry about how long and far their shares can race ahead on concerns the broader stock market could be steering for a correction.
(Reporting by Fang Yan and Edmund Klamann; Editing by Anshuman Daga)