BEIJING (AP) -- China's auto sales rose 16% in November as Japanese automakers extended a rebound in the world's biggest vehicle market, an industry group reported Tuesday.

The figures were an unexpectedly strong performance for automakers that are looking to China to drive global sales amid weakness in U.S., Japanese and European markets.

Drivers bought 1.7 million sedans, sport-utility vehicles and other passenger vehicles, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said.

Growth was down from October's 24% but November still was one of the year's biggest months by volume.

"The figure is much better than was expected at the start of the year," said Jia Xinguang, an independent industry researcher in Beijing. "And this fast-growth figure is even without any incentive policies."

Growth in sales by Japanese brands outpaced the market, rising 19.2%, according to the CAAM. Japanese automakers are recovering from a slump last year during tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over conflicting claims to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 5.7% to just over 2 million vehicles, according to the group.

Manufacturers are spending heavily to create models that appeal to China's growing urban class, adding to competition that is squeezing fledgling domestic brands.

November sales of Chinese-brand vehicles lagged the market, rising 5.5% to 680,000 vehicles.

Sales have been spurred this year by concern among would-be buyers that Chinese authorities might tighten limits on vehicle ownership to curb smog and traffic in major cities.

Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities limit new vehicle registrations. Smaller cities such as Tianjin, Qingdao, Wuhan, Changsha and Hangzhou are rumored to be considering limits on purchases.

General Motors Co., China's top-selling vehicle brand, said earlier that sales of GM-brand autos by the company and its Chinese partners rose 13.3% in November to 294,500 vehicles. It said that was the brand's second-best sales month of 2013.

Ford Motor Co. said sales of Ford-brand vehicles rose 47% to 99,157. It said total sales for the first 11 months of the year increased 51% to 840,975.

Nissan Motor Co., the biggest Japanese auto brand in China, said sales rose 95.7% to 131,800. Toyota Motor Co. reported sales up 140.7% at 89,800 vehicles.

German luxury automaker BMW AG said sales gained 19.7% to 354,153 deliveries.

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