China became the first country in which more than 20 million vehicles were sold in any given year as automakers from leading Toyota to General Motors or Volkswagen AG delivered a record number of cars in the country.
According to the state-backed China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, total deliveries rose 14 % to 21.98 million units last year and may exceed 24 million in 2014. Last year’s sales of passenger vehicles, excluding buses and commercial trucks, climbed to 17.93 million – or 15 % more than the U.S. auto industry.
While China’s motorization has been a boon for foreign automakers – all the major ones saw record sales in the country in 2013 – pressure is building on the government to step in as pollution chokes residents and traffic congestion turns roads into parking lots. With air quality deteriorating so much that children and the elderly are regularly warned to stay indoors, Beijing is tightening its vehicle quotas and Tianjin is capping the number of licenses issued this year.
GM, which counts China as its biggest market, saw sales climb 11 % to 3.16 million in the country last year. Though the Detroit-based carmaker outsold all foreign automakers in China for eight straight years, it may lose that lead when Volkswagen reports 2013 figures later this month. The Wolfsburg, Germany-based company surpassed its previous annual record by selling 2.96 million vehicles in the first 11 months.
Ford, which got a late start in China, benefited from the popularity of its Focus car, helping the company post the biggest growth among major foreign automakers. China deliveries surged 49 % to 935,813 units, outselling Toyota on annual basis for the first time.
Toyota, the global leader in auto sales, fell to No. 6 among foreign automakers in China, though Japanese carmakers rebounded from the backlash of 2012. Its sales climbed 9.2 % to a record 917,500 units. Nissan and Honda also sold a record number of vehicles after posting declines in 2012.
Ford’s Focus was the best-selling car last year, while Great Wall’s Haval topped SUV sales. Chinese brands saw their combined market share at home shrink 1.6 percentage points to 40.3 percent, according to the auto group. Their exports dropped 7.5 percent, the first decline in five years, because of unstable overseas demand and insufficient competitiveness.