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A warm wind from China: good or bad?

CHICAGO — Perhaps it was an omen.

The day before the Chicago Auto Show opened its doors to the press, the Windy City, usually frigid and blustery in February, was calm and warm — 65 degrees.

Not to insinuate too much portent into the climate surprise, it was also the day we  learned that car sales in China in January had, for the first time, surpassed car sales in the U.S. — 735,000 t0 656,976.

Even though China sales have dropped, American sales have plunged even more steeply.

Sure, the Chinese economy has put a damper on a booming automotive surge, but keep in mind that even in these conditions, China is nearing 10 million sales per year — as the U.S. tumbles from around 16 million.

Three years ago, China shifted into high gear and leapt over Japan to become the world's second largest automotive market. And that set off three straight years of 20 percent increases in sales.

All bets may be off, for the moment, in the auto industry. But count on China to be the major player during any rebound.