Auto sales growth in China, the world's biggest car market, fell short of expectations last year, an industry group said Friday, as the economy slowed and cities put limits on vehicle numbers.

Sales rose 4.3% year-on-year in 2012 to 19.31 million vehicles, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said, well below forecasts of 8%.

While the figure is up from 2.5% growth in 2011, when 18.51 million units were sold, it is a fraction of the explosive 32% rise seen in 2010.

Slowing domestic economic growth, limits on car numbers and a political row between China and Japan that hurt sales of Japanese-brand cars weighed on the Chinese auto market last year, analysts said.

Cap on Cars Hurt Sales

In July last year, China's booming southern city of Guangzhou capped the number of cars by limiting license plates, following in the footsteps of Beijing and Shanghai.

Klaus Paur, Shanghai-based global head of automotive for market research company Ipsos, said overall auto sales were hurt by a fall in commercial vehicles as China's economy slowed.

He estimated that limits on cars by cities concerned about pollution and congestion shaved one to two percentage points from sales growth of passenger cars.

Last year, China's sales of passenger cars alone rose 7.1% to 15.50 million vehicles, the association said in a statement on its website.