SHANGHAI : China's auto sales exceeded 23 million vehicles last year, an industry group said Monday, but annual growth halved from 2013 as a weaker economy took its toll on the world's biggest car market.

Sales rose 6.9 percent, or 1.51 million vehicles, to 23.49 million, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said. That was short of an 8.3 percent growth target given by CAAM in July, itself a cut from an earlier forecast of 10 percent, Bloomberg News reported.  In 2013, sales surged 13.9 percent to 21.98 million vehicles, helped by a recovery in Japanese brands that were earlier hurt by a political row between Beijing and Tokyo.

CAAM described 2014 sales as "stable" in a statement.

"Faced with a complex international environment and the arduous task of domestic reform, development and stability, the auto sector... achieved sound development," it said.

China's economic growth eased to 7.3 percent in July-September, the worst quarter since the depths of the global crisis in early 2009, as policymakers accept slower expansion to carry out structural reforms.

At least seven cities have slapped limits on vehicle numbers to cut congestion and pollution, including the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, which just announced a new policy to issue only 100,000 licence plates annually.

But China remained the world's biggest auto market last year, a title it has held since 2009, well ahead of the United States.

Industry consultant Autodata has estimated total US sales last year reached 16.5 million units, up 5.9 percent from 2013.