Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) said on Thursday its car sales in China in September rose 45 percent from a year earlier to a record monthly high of about 72,000 vehicles as stimulus policies bolstered consumer confidence.

In the first nine months of the year, the top Japanese automaker sold about 486,000 cars in China, up 13 percent from a year earlier, a company spokesman said.

Market demand has been very strong this year especially for small cars thanks to the government's incentives. New models also helped push up our sales, he said.

China's auto market, which overtook the United States as the world's biggest in January, is a major bright spot amid a global industry downturn as government policies, including aggressive cuts in sales tax for small cars, bolster demand.

Earlier this year, Toyota, which competes with Honda Motor (7267.T) and others in China, rolled out revamped version of Vios and Yaris compact cars -- both eligible for the tax incentives.

It also launched RAV4, a sport utility vehicle produced by its venture with FAW Group in April, followed by Highlander SUV, made at its tie-up with Guangzhou Automobile, the next month.

Guangzhong Toyota had recently raised the annual sales target of Highlander to 35,000 units for the full year, from 20,000 units due to brisk sales, said the spokesman.

Other foreign automakers, including Volkswagen (VOWG.DE) and General Motors GM.UL, are also among major beneficiaries of Beijing's policy support.

Volkswagen sold 1.06 million vehicles in China and Hong Kong from January to September, up 37 percent from a year earlier. GM's China sales rose 55.6 percent to 1.29 million during the period.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)