The Chinese economy may be slowing, but one bright spot in third-quarter data released Monday is that consumers spent more on retail purchases in September than expected, and this effect was seen in last month’s new-car sales data. Led by demand for Chinese-brand SUVs and minivans, Chinese car buyers ended four consecutive months of pulling back from vehicle purchases.

"Chinese brands have taken the lead in China's SUV market,” Wu Song, general manager of GAC Motor Co., told China Daily. Wu, whose company has joint ventures with Honda, Toyota and Fiat, said consumers in China’s less-developed areas are emerging as a major car market. “The central and western regions, and the counties in [the] eastern region, are the new sources of growth.”

September China new-auto sales totaled 1.75 million units, up 3.3 percent compared to the same month last year. Sales dropped an average of 4.5 percent in the three months that ended in August, after growing at nearly 9 percent a month for the three months that ended in March.

The Chinese auto industry has been hit this year by a slowdown in economic activity and a massive sell-off in mainland stocks, which have lost a third of their value since early June. Lower growth has led to a price war among foreign and domestic automakers. This month, the central government instituted a 50 percent sales tax reduction for small-engine vehicles to spur consumer spending, which should give a boost to small-sedan sales in the coming months.

The best-selling model for the first nine months of the year is the Haval H6 sport utility vehicle made by Great Wall Motors, the privately owned automaker headed by Chinese billionaire Wei Jianjun and the country’s largest domestic SUV maker, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The second-most-popular model so far this year is the Volkswagen Lavida, a compact made specifically for the Chinese market under the German automaker’s joint venture with SAIC Motor, China’s largest domestic car company. In third place is the Wuling Hong Guang, a compact minivan produced under a three-way joint venture among SAIC, Wuling Motors and General Motors.