SHANGHAI -- General Motors' quarterly sales in China fell for the first time in more than a year, hit by faltering economic growth and a wider slowdown in the world's biggest auto market amid a whipsawing trade war with the United States.
GM sold 835,934 vehicles in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, down a sharp 15 percent from a year earlier, which the company said was due to a "softening" market and a shift to a new engine at the Buick brand.
"The major reasons are a softening market, slowing lower-tier cities, Buick's engine change-over and a strong Q3 last year," a Shanghai-based GM spokeswoman said. She added the decline in sales was not linked to trade tensions between the U.S. and China.
The drop in volume is the first since the first quarter of 2017, when GM's China sales fell 5.2 percent. GM switched to reporting only quarterly China sales earlier this year, scrapping monthly sales figures it had previously revealed.
China light-vehicle sales have been falling more broadly in recent months, with a slowing economy and trade frictions making consumers cautious about spending, analysts and industry experts say.
GM is also shifting its Buick lineup to a more fuel efficient, three-cylinder engine to meet emissions targets. Chinese dealers told Reuters the change has hurt sales because some consumers have not embraced the smaller engines.
"Many consumers still have concerns because they read negative comments about three-cylinder technology online, which aren't really fair," said a sales manager surnamed Hu at a Buick dealer in Zhejiang province.
China, the world's largest auto market, is a critical region for the U.S. carmaker. It sold over 4 million vehicles in the country last year, even more than it sold in North America.
GM's China sales inched up 0.7 percent in the second quarter, slowing from an 8 percent rise in the January-March quarter.
GM's joint venture in China, Shanghai GM, will also recall over 3.3 million Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac vehicles starting Oct. 20 due to a defect with the suspension system, a Chinese regulator said earlier this month.
China's main auto industry body, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, is set to reveal September auto sales later this week.