GM Hangs on to Lead Over Volkswagen in Full-Year China Sales

General Motors Co. outsold Volkswagen AG in China in 2012, keeping its lead among foreign automakers in the country for an eighth year, after sales of the U.S. carmaker’s Wuling minivans climbed to a record.

Deliveries at GM and its Chinese joint ventures rose 11 percent to a record 2.84 million vehicles, the Detroit-based automaker said on its website today. Volkswagen, which unlike GM includes Hong Kong in its China tallies, said deliveries climbed 24.5 percent to 2.81 million.

Both carmakers, which count China as their biggest market, may increase their reliance on the country, where the total number of vehicles sold is forecast to top 20 million units for the first time in 2013. GM plans to add 400 dealerships, focusing on the country’s smaller cities, while Volkswagen plans to invest 9.8 billion euros ($13 billion) through 2015.

“GM remained a leader in our company’s largest market in spite of a downturn in the commercial vehicle segment, where GM has a significant presence,” Bob Socia, GM’s China president said in the statement. “We benefited from a broad portfolio of models that are meeting the diverse needs of vehicle buyers across China.”

During October to December, Volkswagen outsold GM for a second consecutive quarter, according to Bloomberg calculations derived by subtracting nine-month figures from the annual tally. VW delivered more than 800,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter, while GM sold about 754,000 units, the data show.

‘Strong Momentum’

“There’s a good chance that either company could come out on top in China sales this year,” said Yale Zhang, Shanghai-based managing director of Autoforesight Shanghai Co. “In the short term, VW will keep pretty strong momentum, most of their models are new, so 2013 and 2014 should be their strong years as their products are still in their growing life cycle.”

At GM, Wuling deliveries climbed 12 percent to 1.33 million, accounting for almost half of the company’s total sales in the country. Buick and Chevy sales gained 8.4 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. The automaker sold 30,010 Cadillacs, two units more than the previous year.

Wuling Delivers

Last year’s growth in deliveries accelerated from the 8.3 percent pace in 2011, according to company data. While Wuling sales growth quickened from 3.9 percent, Chevy and Buick deliveries slowed from 9.4 percent and 17 percent, respectively in 2011.

Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker, reported China sales of vehicles under its namesake brand climbed 25 percent last year. Deliveries at its Audi luxury brand increased 30 percent to a record 405,838 units.

“Success in China is vital to Volkswagen’s 2018 strategy to be the ecological and economic number one in the automotive industry,” Jochem Heizmann, VW’s China head, said in a statement. “Although we expect tougher conditions for the car industry to come, we want to maintain our leading market position in China.”

For GM, promoting the Cadillac brand in China will be “an area of concentration,” Socia said in November. GM will also focus on boosting SUV sales and on exports, he said then.

GM will begin sales of the China-made Cadillac XTS sedan in the first quarter, its second locally produced luxury model, according to Dayna Hart, a Shanghai-based spokeswoman for the automaker.

Last year, GM introduced the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Encore and rolled out the Shanghai OnStar telematics service. Shanghai GM, its joint venture with SAIC Motor Corp., began construction of its fourth manufacturing base in Wuhan, while SAIC-GM-Wuling announced plans for a third plant in Chongqing.

— With assistance by Alexandra Ho

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