Beijing — China’s vehicles sales in February fell 11.1% from a year earlier to 1.72-million vehicles, an industry body said on Friday, as growth in the world’s largest automotive market reversed after a rapid start to the year.

The steep drop, impacted by the timing of the week-long Chinese New Year holiday which was in February this year but January in 2017, comes after vehicle sales rose 11.6% in the first month of the year, the fastest in 11 months.

The February drop marked the end of an eight-month rising streak for China’s vehicle market, even if growth has generally been tepid since the second-half of last year.

China’s vehicle sales for the first two months of the year combined were up 1.7% at 4.53-million.

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), which has predicted 3% market growth this year, said it was hard to determine full-year growth. Sales rose 3% last year, sharply down from a 13.7% gain in 2016.

"Regarding the annual sales target, whether it is 3% or 1% or 5%, whether it’s from CAAM or an industry forecast, it’s not numerically important," Li Shaohua, CAAM assistant secretary-general, told a press briefing in Beijing. "It’s too early to determine the full-year picture based on the January to February trend."

China’s vehicle market has been facing a slowdown overall. In 2017, auto sales in the market fell short of a 5% growth forecast from CAAM, hurt in part by a phasing out of tax cuts on cars with smaller engines that began last year.

CAAM said sales of new-energy vehicles (NEVs), referring to pure electric and plug-in hybrids, rose 95.2% in February to 34,420 units. Sales of NEVs in the first two months of the year surged 200% to 74,667 vehicles.

China is making a major push to support the NEV sector and drive a shift away from traditional petrol-engine cars. The industry body has previously said the segment will grow about 40% this year to top sales of 1-million low-energy cars.