China was the world's biggest auto market in 2009 - ahead of the US - after government incentives boosted demand.

Vehicle sales reached a record 13.6m units last year, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said on Monday, well above the previous target of 10m.

That compared with annual sales of 10.4m cars and light trucks sold in the United States, the lowest level in 27 years.

The Chinese total also includes heavy vehicles but was still higher when that tally of about 650,000 units was deducted, Orient Securities told the Reuters news agency.

China saw car sales growth over 20% for three consecutive years in a row until 2008 when slowing economic growth began to reduce demand and growth slowed to a single-digit rate for the first time in at least 10 years due to natural disasters and a slowing economy.

The market has recovered strongly since February 2009 due to government stimulus measures, including aggressive cuts in sales tax for small cars.

The SAIC-GM-Wuling joint venture sold the most vehicles last year - 976,800 - ahead of Shanghai Volkswagen (728,200), Shanghai GM (708,400), FAW Volkswagen (669,200) and Beijing Hyundai (570,300).