China is thought to have overtaken Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter in 2023, a local car association said on Tuesday.
The China Passenger Car Association (CPCA) told a press conference that the country became the top auto exporter for the first time with car exports jumping 62% to a record 3.83 million vehicles last year.
That was greater than Japanese customs data that showed 3.5 million passenger car exports for the first 11 months of the year, excluding second-hand vehicles.
Chinese companies specializing in electric vehicles such as BYD and Chery have made major strides in overseas markets, as well as at home – the world’s biggest auto market.
China’s total auto exports were estimated to hit 5.26 million units for the whole of last year valued at about $102 billion, while Japan’s full-year exports were forecast at about 4.3 million units, according to the association.
The numbers offer the latest indication of the global auto exports powerhouse that China has now become, riding largely on the strength of its nimble electric vehicle automakers.
BYD overtook Tesla to be the world’s top seller of EVs in the fourth quarter, though based mostly on China sales.
China’s EV growth causing concern
The increasing Chinese clout overseas has caused consternation in some governments, who are fearful of the repercussions of that trend on their domestic automakers.
In September, the European Commission launched a probe into Chinese-made electric vehicles over subsidies they may have received, which was branded by Beijing as “protectionist”.
The Biden administration in the United States is also discussing raising tariffs on some Chinese goods including EVs, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
Chinese customs are due to publish trade numbers for December on Friday.
Tesla, which exported 344,078 China-made electric vehicles, also contributed to the export boom.
Bruising price war
China’s domestic auto market, the world’s biggest, chugged along in 2023, with vehicle sales rising 5.3% to 21.93 million for its third consecutive year of growth amid a bruising price war as car makers sought to woo consumers unnerved by a faltering economic recovery.
Sales of pure battery-powered vehicles in China climbed 20.8% last year after a 74.2% jump in 2022. Sales of plug-in hybrids, more economically affordable than pure electrics, grew 82.5% last year after a 160.5% surge a year earlier.
Domestic brands in China’s total sales are expected to further increase to 63% in 2024 from 56% last year, bolstered by strengthening brand recognition in the EV segment and a rapid electrification of the industry, UBS auto analyst Paul Gong told a roundtable on Tuesday.
BYD, which is 7.98% owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, has expanded aggressively in Southeast Asia and Europe, although most of its deliveries are in China, where it has spurred sales with hefty incentives to dealers.
Tesla, however, operates with more efficiency in China, selling far more cars per store than BYD.
French auto brands lost the most ground this year in China with sales down 41%, according to data for the first 11 months of the year.
Sales of Japanese cars skidded 10.7% while US brands saw sales decline 1.4%. In contrast, German vehicle sales were up 2.5% while those for Chinese cars jumped 15.7%.
Global competition is only expected to heat up further.
Popular Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi took the wraps off its first electric vehicle last month and promptly announced it was aiming to become one of the world’s top five automakers.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard