Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: China, The Only Country In The World Where A Buick Is Number 1

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier

Over the last few weeks we have traveled to the USA in 1986, Cambodia, Panama 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:

ModelSept UnitsSept PosYTD UnitsYTD PosBuick Excelle27,9941191,4951VW Lavida23,8522176,3622Chevrolet Cruze23,2123162,0724Chevrolet Sail20,9584135,54810VW Bora20,1955148,1386Honda CR-V20,0186108,81918VW Jetta19,8197166,2103Hyundai Elantra Yuedong18,8008151,8035VW Passat18,0439119,16112Ford Focus16,36910141,5789Nissan Sunny16,11311116,00513Hyundai Verna15,9631296,88323VW Polo15,62413104,04320Toyota Corolla15,54814122,09811Nissan Teana15,19315111,68514Chery QQ14,76916111,67715Honda Accord14,70817109,25717FAW Xiali N-Series14,57118142,5588BYD F313,52119145,7907VW Tiguan13,38720100,70922Toyota Camry13,34521106,28219Buick Excelle XT/GT13,22122101,30921Great Wall Tengyi C3012,92023109,86416Kia Forte Furuidi12,6412494,94626Nissan Qashqai12,5142577,81430Toyota Corolla EX12,4442683,97729Nissan Bluebird Sylphy11,8622796,79224Citroen C-Quatre11,7272885,92728VW Sagitar11,5892995,99825Skoda Octavia11,2503094,86327

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


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.

Matt Gasnier
Matt Gasnier

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2 of 11 comments
  • Daveainchina Daveainchina on Oct 19, 2011

    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.

  • Akear Akear on Oct 19, 2011

    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.

  • JK I grew up with Dodge trucks in the US, and now live in Turin, Italy, the home of Fiat. I don't think Italians view this as an Italian company either. There are constant news articles and protests about how stalantis is moving operations out of Italy. Jeep is strangely popular here though. I think last time I looked at stelantis's numbers, Jeep was the only thing saving them from big big problems.
  • Bd2 Oh yeah, funny how Trumpers (much less the Orange Con, himself) are perfectly willing to throw away the Constitution...
  • Bd2 Geeze, Anal sure likes to spread his drivelA huge problem was Fisher and his wife - who overspent when they were flush with cash and repeatedly did things ad hoc and didn't listen to their employees (who had more experience when it came to auto manufacturing, engineering, etc).
  • Tassos My Colleague Mike B bought one of these (the 300 SEL, same champagne color) new around June 1990. I thought he paid $50k originally but recently he told me it was $62k. At that time my Accord 1990 Coupe LX cost new, all included, $15k. So today the same car means $150k for the S class and $35k-40k for the Accord. So those %0 or 62k , these were NOT worthless, Idiot Joe Biden devalued dollars, so he paid AN ARM AND A LEG. And he babied the car, he really loved it, despite its very weak I6 engine with a mere 177 HP and 188 LBFT, and kept it forever. By the time he asked me to drive it (to take him to the dealer because his worthless POS Buick Rainier "SUV" needed expensive repairs (yes, it was a cheap Buick but he had to shell out thousands), the car needed a lot of suspension work, it drove like an awful clunker. He ended up donating it after 30 years or so. THIS POS is no different, and much older. Its CHEAPSKATE owner should ALSO donate it to charity instead of trying to make a few measly bucks off its CARCASS. Pathetic!
  • RHD The re-paint looks like it was done with a four-inch paintbrush. As far as VWs go, it's a rebadged Seat... which is still kind of a VW, made in Mexico from a Complete Knock-Down kit. 28 years in Mexico being driven like a flogged mule while wearing that ridiculous rear spoiler is a tough life, but it has actually survived... It's unique (to us), weird, funky (very funky), and certainly not worth over five grand plus the headaches of trying to get it across the border and registered at the local DMV.