China's auto sales rose 5.1 percent in the first two months of the year as soaring demand for lower-priced domestic brand SUVs helped to offset a contraction in sedan sales.

An industry group, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, said Thursday that sales rose to 3.6 million vehicles in January and February.

Sales by consumer industries in China for the first two months often are reported together to factor out the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday, a two-week slowdown that occurs at different times during that period each year.

SUV sales soared 54.8 percent in January and February over a year earlier, while sedan sales fell 12.5 percent. The CAAM said Chinese brands accounted for 60 percent of the SUV market.