China moved ahead of Japan to become the world’s largest exporter of vehicles in 2023 as the country’s automakers stepped up worldwide expansion.

According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), 4.91m new vehicles were exported from China last year, up 58% from the 3.11m units exported in 2022 and more than double the 2.02m shipped in 2021.

Data from the Chinese Customs Department put the 2023 export figure even higher, at 5.22m, up 57%.

Japanese vehicle exports increased 16% to 4.42m units in 2023, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) as production rebounded from the previous year’s supply chain shortages.

Chinese automakers have been expanding aggressively worldwide in the last two years, particularly in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. They have also claimed a significant share in Russia after most foreign automakers were forced to withdraw because of sanctions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan have significantly more overseas production operations, however, while Chinese brands are still in the early stages of their global expansion strategy.

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Overall, Chinese automakers (including foreign brands based in China) produced 30m vehicles last year while Japanese automakers’ global production was estimated at around 27m.

Chinese automakers have also taken the lead in the battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales weorldwide, thanks to their substantial domestic market, and this was expected to be the main driver of global growth over the next decade.

Foreign brands, including Japanese and European, are also establishing major export operations in China, particularly for BEVs.