"There was evident growth of demand in the passenger vehicle market," the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement.
Vehicle sales surged 46.4 percent year-on-year in January to set a record for any month, the group said, but added the strong rise was also attributable to five fewer working days in January last year.
Sales of passenger vehicles alone jumped around 48.7 percent from a year earlier to 1.73 million units, it said.
China's annual auto sales rose only 4.3 percent year-on-year to 19.31 million units in 2012, hit by limits on numbers imposed by some cities to ease traffic congestion and cut pollution.
A dispute between Beijing and Tokyo also hurt sales of Japanese cars, but other foreign brands have fared better due to customers' perceptions of higher quality.
US auto giant General Motors said earlier this week that its January sales in China surged 26 percent year on year to 310,765 vehicles, setting a company record for any month.
Its sales in China grew 11.3 percent in 2012 from 2011 to a record 2.84 million vehicles, despite the country's slower economic growth, the company has previously said.