By on October 17, 2011

Over the last few weeks we have traveled to the USA in 1986CambodiaPanama and Colombia. Now we’re getting serious and exploring the second biggest market in the world: China!

Bertel has been giving you regular updates on the Chinese market , so you are already all set for an in-depth exploration of which models the Chinese prefer… Not interested? Too bad… Oh wait. Actually, if you are already China-ed out, that’s fine, I’ve prepared 155 other countries for you to visit in my blog, and I can tell you it is 非常好 (very good), so click away!

There is one – I repeat one! – country in the world that has a Buick as the best-seller, and it’s China!

Formerly dominated by Volkswagen, the Chinese market has been getting cozier with American models recently.  For the year, VW has sold the most cars in China with 1.7 million delivered January through September 2011,  General Motors sold 1.1 million cars in the same period. Note that I said “cars.”  Had I said “vehicles,” or “automobiles,” then GM would rank first with 1.9 million sold, followed by Volkswagen with 1.7 million, again January through September. Welcome to Chinese numerology. More on that below.

Volkswagen has reason to get nervous, because in September, General Motors managed to place 3 models in the Chinese Top 4 best-selling models ranking for the first time ever! In pole position, we have the Buick Excelle, in fact a face-lifted Chevrolet Optra, with 27,992 sales in September and 191,495 units over the first 9 months of 2011, in pole position here too.

The VW Lavida is a China-exclusive model and it is hitting its cruising rhythm this year in 2nd place both in September with 23,852 sales and year-to-date at 176,362 units.

In third position is the very familiar Chevrolet Cruze, managing the mean feat of pleasing both American and Chinese audiences. It ranks 3rd in September with 23,212 sales, its third highest monthly volume ever, and 4th year-to-date with 162,072 sales.

The third GM model in the Top 4 in September is the Chevrolet Sail, a revamped Opel Corsa exclusively built in China that had started being exported around the globe, notably to Algeria. The Sail beats all its records this month in China: best ever monthly volume at 20,958 and best-ever ranking at #4.

The Honda CR-V is at an impressive 6th place…

…while the VW Jetta is Number 7 in September with 19,819 sales but Number 3 year-to-date at 166,210 units. Now the Chinese Jetta has nothing to do with the American one, it is in fact a slightly face-lifted 1984 European Jetta! Yes, Sir! The Chinese Jetta was the best-selling car in the country from 2002 to 2004 and from 2006 to 2008.

The VW Passat new generation is Number 9 this month after an exceptional month of August when it ranked Number 2.

Notice the Nissan Sunny (aka Versa) in 11th position and 13th place year-to-date.

“But where are the Chinese brands?” I hear you ask.

And it is a very good question indeed…

In 2010, the best-selling model in China was the ‘home-grown’ BYD F3, in actual fact a mix of previous generations Toyota Corolla and Honda City. This year it is only 7th and 19th in September.

The FAW Xiali N Series was 6th in 2010, it is 8th year-to-date in 2011 and 18th in September.

Lastly the Chery QQ was 13th in 2010, is 15th in 2011 and 16th in September.

That’s right, there are no ‘100% Chinese models’ in the Top 15 this month!

Now. Before you hit me with yet another TTAC controversy, what I mean by that is that there are no models by a Chinese brand in the Top 15. All foreign manufacturers are engaged in joint-ventures with local manufacturers and so only qualify as 50% Chinese at best. Did I just confuse the hell out of you? Never mind. Just ask Bertel.

The Top 30 best-selling models in China in September 2011:

Model Sept Units Sept Pos YTD Units YTD Pos
Buick Excelle 27,994 1 191,495 1
VW Lavida 23,852 2 176,362 2
Chevrolet Cruze 23,212 3 162,072 4
Chevrolet Sail 20,958 4 135,548 10
VW Bora 20,195 5 148,138 6
Honda CR-V 20,018 6 108,819 18
VW Jetta 19,819 7 166,210 3
Hyundai Elantra Yuedong 18,800 8 151,803 5
VW Passat 18,043 9 119,161 12
Ford Focus 16,369 10 141,578 9
Nissan Sunny 16,113 11 116,005 13
Hyundai Verna 15,963 12 96,883 23
VW Polo 15,624 13 104,043 20
Toyota Corolla 15,548 14 122,098 11
Nissan Teana 15,193 15 111,685 14
Chery QQ 14,769 16 111,677 15
Honda Accord 14,708 17 109,257 17
FAW Xiali N-Series 14,571 18 142,558 8
BYD F3 13,521 19 145,790 7
VW Tiguan 13,387 20 100,709 22
Toyota Camry 13,345 21 106,282 19
Buick Excelle XT/GT 13,221 22 101,309 21
Great Wall Tengyi C30 12,920 23 109,864 16
Kia Forte Furuidi 12,641 24 94,946 26
Nissan Qashqai 12,514 25 77,814 30
Toyota Corolla EX 12,444 26 83,977 29
Nissan Bluebird Sylphy 11,862 27 96,792 24
Citroen C-Quatre 11,727 28 85,927 28
VW Sagitar 11,589 29 95,998 25
Skoda Octavia 11,250 30 94,863 27

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the golden nugget.

But first: for the nerds among you, the entire models ranking in China for September 2011 (Top 243) is here.

I will stay on the General Motors theme for my weekly nugget: GM’s new low-cost brand Baojun has just launched in China with the very first model, the 630, ranking 143rd with 1,945 sales for its second month in market, up 125% on its first month. Promising? Not yet but worth following closely.

But wait I have a second nugget for you today – how generous! If you want to know which models topped the rankings in China from 1986 to 2002 click here and from 2003 to 2010 click here. Monthly rankings are here too.

A last bit of warning: you may find super-nerds challenging you when you say the Buick Excelle is the best-selling car in China this year. They will utter the words ‘Wuling Sunshine’. Fear not. The Wuling Sunshine is a Commercial Vehicle and the best-selling vehicle in China. A bit like saying the Ford F-Series is the best-selling vehicle in the US and the Toyota Camry the best-selling car. See what I mean?

But do not dismiss the Wuling Sunshine so quickly: most months, well over 50,000 units of the model find a happy Chinese buyer – more than the above mentioned F Series in the US or the VW Golf in the whole of Europe. I know. Stupendous. The Chinese will never stop to amaze us. (And you can see the Chinese Light Commercial Vehicle ranking for August 2011 here).  Actually, Wuling is the secret of GM’s greatness in China. Without Wuling, GM would be just another car manufacturer. With Wuling, GM can carry the title “China’s largest manufacturer of automobiles.” First of, some explanation of what GM is doing:

Shanghai GM, a joint venture with SAIC, makes the ubiquitous Buicks and Chevrolets and imports Cadillacs. Allegedly also Opels.

SAIC-GM-Wuling is a three-way joint venture, with SAIC holding the majority. Previously, it made the vans shown above, and it still makes them in large numbers. Recently, the JV added the Baojun “Chinese” brand.

The FAW-GM joint venture, a fairly recent business, is making medium duty commercial vehicles under the Jiefang brand. This year, it showed a pickup called the Kuncheng.

Volkswagen sells no commercial vehicles in China. With the commercial vehicles added in, the situation looks like this:

Passenger (PV) and Commercial (CV) Vehicle Sales, January-September 2011

GM PV 1,104,259
CV 788,603
Total 1,892,862
VW PV 1,715,255
CV 0
Total 1,715,255

As you can see, China has two kings of cars. In pure passenger vehicles, Volkswagen leads. In total vehicles, GM is first. From now on, when someone asks you “who sells the most cars in China?” you can answer: “That depends on what you call a car.” And now, you are the real expert about China.


Thought so.

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.

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11 Comments on “Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: China, The Only Country In The World Where A Buick Is Number 1...”

  • avatar

    The Sunshine looks just plain horrible.

    Is there a credible review of one out there?


    • 0 avatar

      sure there are, a whole bunch were imported jnto the US via gray market so theres even YouTube videos of folks driving it and mostly people are pleased since u get a cargo van for super cheap. Very basic, awful seat cloth quality but it works. Of course many of those imported were kicked off the roads so only a few in very lax states remain street legalish.

  • avatar

    One suggestion:

    If possible, list the MSRP range for each model, so that will help readers understand better (as Chinese models could differ dratically from their North American counterparts).

    • 0 avatar

      For instance, the Jetta (the one right under CRV pic) looks nothing like a NA Jetta.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s the 2nd generation Jetta VW sold in Europe and North America during the 2nd half of the 80ies. FAW-VW still builds it in a facelifted form.

        They also sell the 5th gen as VW Sagitar and I think the New Bora is a redesign of the 4th gen. Shanghai VW also has its own heavily modified version of the 4th gen Jetta : the VW Lavida.

  • avatar

    Buick is the Ron Paul of the car biz, lots of substance and consistency but little respect in the media.

    • 0 avatar

      That is a Buick grill on an old Daewoo Lacetti, the predecessor of the Lacetti now sold here as the Chevy Cruze. The ‘Buick Excelle’ was sold here as the Suzuki Forenza, and it was one of the worst consumer rated cars on the US market, explaining why GM was comfortable farming out Cobalt replacement to Daewoo.

      • 0 avatar

        Are you trying to say that there is no difference in the Suzuki Forenza and the Buick Excelle? What Suzuki decides to do with the vehicle is up to them. But sharing a platform doesn’t mean it is the same car.

        BTW, the Cobalt replacement is doing quite well.

  • avatar

    Not one of these cars was designed and engineered in the US. GM is becoming the walmart of the industry by simply selling other carmakers products and then rebadging them.

    Nothing to be proud about here.

  • avatar

    Note to the editor. The Nissan sunny in china is called the Nissan Tiida. It is a very common car in Shanghai here. In fact, compared to most cars that are not luxury cars, it’s pretty decent here in China. Especially compared to the Chinese cars. I’ve only recently seen the Baojun’s, total of maybe 5 of them. I’m going to keep looking as I’m curious to see how they hold up.

    I didn’t realize that Wuling was a JV with GM. Those things are everywhere and I’m pretty sure safety-wise they are deathtrap.

    I knew the Cruze was popular, I’m seeing more and more of them, I didn’t realize it was that popular though.

  • avatar

    As I said before at the end of the day most of these car are either rebadged Daewoo’s or second tier European models. GM mediocrity is an international phenomenon.

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