Many have dreamt of dethroning Volkswagen from the top of the Chinese automotive sales charts, and BYD has done just that. 

    For the first time since 1986 Volkswagen wasn’t China’s top car brand. BYD’s assumption of the crown isn’t a total surprise given the Chinese brand overtook Volkswagen during the first quarter of 2023.

    The Volkswagen Group was one of the first foreign carmakers to enter the Chinese market after it opened up in the early 1980s. The company’s success was initially built on the back of the popular first-generation Santana, and it has since followed up with a plethora of both locally developed and global models.

    Figures from three different sources — the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, China Automotive Technology and Research Center, and China Passenger Car Association — all confirm BYD’s rise to the top.

    Thanks to different methodologies and definitions, all three differ on just how many cars BYD sold in China in 2023, but the numbers range between 2.3 and 2.6 million. All sources agree BYD sales jumped by around 43 per cent to overtake both Volkswagen and Toyota.

    For this rest of this article we’ll cite the numbers from the China Passenger Car Association (CPAC) as published by Car News China, which has the most comprehensive English language summary we’ve found.


    CPAC’s numbers only include locally produced passenger cars. It excludes both commercial vehicles, as well as imported models, although given high import tariffs, the latter only make up a small proportion of overall sales.

    According to CPAC, passenger car sales in China grew 5.6 per cent to 21,706,000. In the top 10 brands, only local and luxury marques were able to expand their sales.


    Of BYD’s nearly 2.6 million cars, 1,318,835 (or 51.3 per cent) of them had pure electric drivetrains. BYD accounted for 25.6 per cent of the entire electric vehicle (EV) market with 5,156,000 cars.

    Tesla (603,664) and Aion (477,545) took out the EV podium places, while Wuling, Nio, Volkswagen, Changan, Xpeng, Geely, and Zeekr completed the top 10.

    The only foreign brands in the EV top 10 were Tesla and Volkswagen (155,519).

    In the plug-in hybrid arena, BYD was top dog, cornering around 48 per cent of all sales.

    Top models

    As far as individual models went, number one was the Tesla Model Y (up 44.7 per cent to 456,394). It was followed by the BYD Qin Plus (up 40.9 per cent to 434,213) and the BYD Song Plus (down 14.2 per cent to 390,213). Both BYD models are available with plug-in hybrid and electric drivetrains.

    Indeed, BYD took up half the spots on the top 10 list with the Yuan Plus (aka Atto 3, up 85.3 per cent to 309,835) in sixth, the Dolphin (up 46.8 per cent to 299,708) in seventh, and the Seagull (239,270) debuting in tenth.

    Volkswagen’s strength to date has been its sprawling model range, and its comprehensive coverage of the country via its two joint venture manufacturing partners.

    Two of its models managed to make it into the national top 10: the Jetta-sized Lavida, which came in fifth with 345,879; and the Sagitar (285,054), which is what the current Jetta is known as in China.

    Perhaps the most interesting entry on the list is the fifth-placed Nissan Sylphy (down 10.6 per cent to 376,109).

    Not only does it account for 54.7 per cent of Nissan’s sales in China, but the handsome sedan is sold in the US as the Sentra, and is the closest living relation to the Pulsar, which used to do good business in Australia back in the day.

    Derek Fung

    Derek Fung would love to tell you about his multiple degrees, but he's too busy writing up some news right now. In his spare time Derek loves chasing automotive rabbits down the hole. Based in New York, New York, Derek loves to travel and is very much a window not an aisle person.

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