China, the Bicycle Kingdom, Tops Japan to Become No. 2 Auto Market

China surpassed Japan in 2006 to become the world's No. 2 vehicle market after the United States, on 37% jump in car sales, the Chinese auto industry association reported. It highlighted China's evolution from a "bicycle kingdom" into a major auto market, reports AP

China overall vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, rose 25.1% to 7.2 million units last year, while passenger car sales rose 37% to 3.8 million.

Japan's total vehicle sales last year were 5.7 million units, a slight decline from 2005, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

U.S. car and truck sales totaled 16.5 million units in 2006, down slightly from 2005, according data from Autodata Inc.

Struggling U.S. automakers General Motors and Ford have gotten a boost from double-digit sales growth in China and fledgling Chinese manufacturers are starting to export their own cars, trucks and SUVs.

Chinese sales have also helped the struggling U.S. automakers and other luxury brands: 

  • General Motors total sales in China last year rose 32% over 2005 to 876,747 vehicles. 
  • Ford Motor Co. total sales of its brands, including Ford, Lincoln, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo, rose 87% to 166,722 units.
  • Rolls Royce (owned by BMW) sales were up 60%. 

China's automakers exported about 325,000 vehicles last year, mostly low-priced trucks and buses to developing markets, but are eager to enter the U.S. market. 

Analysts predict China could overtake the United States as the top car market some time after 2015. 

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