China Overtakes Japan As World’s Top Auto Exporter

Strong EV interest and sales to Russia pushes China in becoming the world’s dominant car exporter. 

While everyone has likely already foresaw this coming in the last few years already, 2023 has nevertheless since marked the year for China to have become the largest volume car exporter. Having previously claimed the runner-up spot from Germany last year, China has this year finally moved up to the top step of the global export podium by overtaking Japan, and by a considerable margin to boot. 

Data recently released by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) shows for its exports in the first 11 months of this year to have totalled 4.42 million cars, up 58% from the same period of 2022. Japan meanwhile, in spite of improving its year-on-year sales performance by 15% over the same period from last year, only managed to shift 3.99 million vehicles overseas. 

2023 marks the first time Japan will be pushed off the top spot since 2016, with Volkswagen’s strong performance that year handing the title over to Germany. Though unlike that single year fluke, it will seem that China’s grip on that export crown is here to stay for the long term. 

Now of course, as observed in Malaysia, strong global interest in EVs are a large part behind China claiming this export crown. According to the CAAM, China’s EV exports climbed a whopping 77% from 2022 to reach 1.43 million units in the first 10 months of 2023. They accounted for 34 percent of China’s total car exports.

Another significant cause behind the expansion of Chinese auto exports is Russia. Such is because while most Western countries have withdrawn from the Russian car market as a result of the Ukraine war, China has stood steadfast behind Moscow. To that end therefore, China has exported over 730,000 vehicles to Russia from January to October period in 2023, seven times more than in the same period last year. 

Chery SUV

Interestingly too, the Mexican market has emerged as a major export market for Chinese automakers. China has sold 330,000 vehicles in the country during the first ten months of 2023, up 73% year-on-year. Though the bigger news with this regard will likely be plans for said companies to set up production bases there as a springboard into the US — the world’s biggest auto market, without having to pay stiff import duties.

It also is worth noting that not all of China’s auto exports carry Chinese badges. Tesla, Volvo and BMW to name a few all build cars in China that are sold elsewhere. Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory for instance is currently capable of producing 1.25 million vehicles annually, with the American EV manufacturer further planning to ramp up production capacity even more.

And speaking of these foreign marques, the first 11 months of 2023 saw 820,000 units of these cars being imported into China. This figure incidentally marks a surprising 7% year-on-year increase from the same period in 2022, which is contrary to the usual 10% year-on-year decrease trend that began in 2017. 

Delving deeper into the figures still, imports from Korea remarkably surged by an exceptional 264% during that time. Both Lexus and Porsche meanwhile saw sales decline in China in 2023.

Joshua Chin

Automotive journalist. Professional work on and Personal writing found at Instagram: @driveeveryday

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