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BEIJING (AP) China's auto sales rose 13 percent in April despite concern about a weak economic recovery and Japanese brands suffered less severe declines, an industry group reported Thursday.

Customers in the world's biggest auto market bought 1.4 million cars, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said. It said total auto sales showed "clear improvement" at 1.8 million vehicles but gave no details.

Global automakers are looking to China to drive revenues but competition is increasing after sales growth that spiked to 45 percent in 2009 declined to more sustainable rates.

"The data are a bit better than I expected but within a normal range. Demand in China is huge, so there is no problem with consuming capacity," said Jia Xinguang, an auto analyst in Beijing.

The sales gains came despite a decline in Chinese economic growth to 7.7 percent in the first three months of the year from 7.9 percent the previous quarter. Analysts say the recovery from the country's deepest slowdown since the 2008 global crisis is being shored up by state-led investment and bank lending.

Japanese automakers that have been hurt by tensions over a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo suffered a 4.9 percent decline in overall sales from a year earlier. Still, that was an improvement over the previous month's 17.8 percent decline.

General Motors Co. reported earlier that April sales of GM-brand autos by the company and its Chinese partners rose 15.3 percent from a year earlier to 261,870 vehicles.

GM said this week its main Chinese joint venture, Shanghai GM, received government permission to build an 8 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) factory to build Cadillacs. The company has said it will make a priority of increasing Cadillac's share of China's fast-growing luxury car market.

Japan's Nissan Motor Co. said its April sales rose 2.7 percent to 102,800 vehicles, breaking a series of monthly declines. However, Nissan said sales for the first four months of the year were down 11 percent from the same period last year.

Ford Motor Co. said sales of Ford-brand vehicles by the company and its Chinese partners rose 37 percent over a year earlier to 75,331 vehicles. It said year-to-date sales were up 49 percent at 261,927 vehicles.

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AP researcher Fu Ting in Shanghai contributed.

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China Association of Automobile Manufacturers: www.caam.org.cn