By on February 27, 2012

SUVs are one of the strongest segments in an otherwise lackluster Chinese car market. Who slept through this trend? The kingdom of trucks, Detroit. “Instead, Japanese and Korean makers prevail in the compact segment, while German companies dominate the luxury segment,” writes Reuters in an article about China’s infatuation with SUVs.

In China, 2.1 million SUVs were sold last year, up 25.3 percent from 2010, reaching 11.6 percent of light vehicle sales, data by J.D. Power and LMC Automotive show. In the same period, the Chinese market as a whole eked out only a small 2.45 percent gain. China already buys about half of the 4.1 million SUVs sold in the United States last year. A monster market, ignored by American SUVs.

Despite a very strong Chinese presence by GM, and a not so strong presence by Ford, U.S. makers are not leveraging their SUV strength in a market that has a hot love affair with SUVs. America is leaving piles of money on the table, snapped up by the Japanese and the Germans.

Honda’s CR-V leads the list of best-selling SUVs in China with 160,000 sold in 2011. Nissan’s Qashqai, Hyundai’s iX35, Toyota’s Highlander, RAV4 and Kia’s Sportage SL are also on the top-10 list. Nissan saw SUV sales at its China joint venture surge 48.3 percent in 2011.

The luxury SUV segment is growing even faster than  overall SUV sales. A total of 285,704 luxury SUVs were sold in the country in 2011, four times the 2009 level. Market share climbed to 13.7 percent from 8.4 percent, J.D. Power and LMC statistics show.

Audi’s Q5 topped the luxury SUV seller list last year. Audi will soon make the Q3 at its Changchun plant. China-made Mercedes-Benz GLKs and the BMW X1 rank second and third on the top-seller list. Mercedes sold 54,000 SUVs in China last year, accounting for 27 percent of its total China sales in 2011.

And the Americans?

GM has started to make the Buick Encore SUV locally. Ford plans to build the Kuga and possibly EcoSport SUVs in China. Chrysler might do local assembly of the Jeep Cherokee.

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