Will This Country Help GM Keep a Lead Over Toyota and Ford?

China’s first-time buyers are growing General Motors’ (NYSE:GM) following in the country. Sales rose 11 percent from a year earlier to 257,944 units in March. Unit sales for the three months ending in March jumped 8.7 percent to 745,152 units, also a record.

GM recovered from bankruptcy by regaining its spot as the world’s largest seller of automobiles last year, selling 9 million vehicles in 2011. Germany’s Volkswagen and Japan’s Toyota (NYSE:TM) were pushed to second and third, respectively.

GM, which is also the largest foreign automaker in China, is enjoying a surge in that country due to high demand for the Buick Excelle and Chevrolet New Sail. The just-launched mid-size Malibu sedan, which was introduced in the market in February, is also doing well. The Detroit-based automaker has already sold 4,289 units of the Malibu in its first full month on the market.

“Our new models such as the Chevrolet Malibu have gotten off to a solid start, complementing the ongoing strength of established products such as the Buick Excelle, Chevrolet Cruze and Cadillac SRX,” GM’s China group managing director Kevin Wale said in a statement.

The effects from a slow economy were reversed through another factor. “When the economy slows, people tend to delay replacing their cars,” LMC Automative analyst John Zeng told Bloomberg. “But 82 percent of the car buyers in China are first-time buyers, and are still eager to buy.”

Shanghai General Motors, which manufactures Buick and Chevrolet vehicles in the country, grew sales by 11 percent to 110,038 units in March. SAIC-GM-Wuling Automotive Co., which makes mini commercial vehicles, added 12 percent, selling 139,768 vehicles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aabha Rathee at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com