Vehicle production in China fell for the first time in 12 months in February, tumbling 16.2% from year-ago to 1,347,200 units. It also was the largest drop since January 2009’s 17.8% shortfall.

A late celebration of the Chinese New Year largely contributed to the steep decline. Factories were shut down for several days to observe the holiday that normally falls in January.

Every sector saw production fall in February, with medium- and heavy-duty trucks posting the largest drop of 38.9%. Light vehicles slipped 14.5%, and buses fell 37.6%.

Japanese-brand automobile output continued to flag in February. Protests ignited by a territorial dispute last September cut deeply into those auto makers’ Chinese sales, forcing a rollback in production. Nissan builds slumped 64.3%, compared with year-ago, while Toyota and Honda posted declines of 48.9% and 42.4%, respectively.

Shanghai Volkswagen was the manufacturing leader in February, with a 9.0% share of production. SAIC-GM-Wuling held second place with 8.2%, and Shanghai GM tumbled to third from the top position in January, with 7.2%.

The VW Lavida was China’s most-produced model in February. Although the compact car usually contends for that title, it has failed to claim the top position until now. With 37,104 vehicles built, the Lavida outnumbered the second-place finisher, SAIC-GM-Wuling’s Hongguang, by about 2,000 units.

Despite February’s slowdown, year-to-date output still was on the rise. Production was up 14.2% in the first two months compared with year-ago, to 3,311,665 units.

hrowe@wardsauto.com