Shanghai - Growth in auto sales in China - the world's biggest car market - slowed sharply in March, an industry group said Friday as the economy weakens.

Sales of all types of vehicles rose 6.6 percent year-on-year to 2.17 million units in the month, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said in a statement.

Growth decelerated from a 17.8 percent surge in February.

Sales of passenger vehicles alone expanded 7.9 percent on-year to 1.71 million units in March, the association said, citing strong demand for sport utility vehicles and multi-purpose vehicles.

But Chinese brands recorded only a 39.3 percent market share for March in the passenger car segment, it said.

Foreign carmakers have traditionally fared better in China due to their brand recognition and perceptions of higher quality.

US auto giant Ford said Tuesday its China sales jumped 28 percent on-year to 103,815 vehicles in March, while competitor General Motors announced last week that its sales in China rose 7.8 percent to 313,283 units for the same month.

China's auto sales surged 13.9 percent to 21.98 million vehicles last year, but analysts say restrictions on car numbers by some cities could cut into purchases.

The eastern city of Hangzhou announced last month it will limit the number of car plates granted each year to ease traffic congestion and control pollution. - Sapa-AFP