China overtakes Japan as world's largest auto exporter
China secured its position as the world's largest automobile exporter in 2023, surpassing Japan for the first time, driven by robust overseas sales of electric vehicles (EVs).
Japan exported 4.42 million vehicles in 2023, marking a 16% increase from the previous year, as reported by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association on Wednesday, January 31.
However, this figure fell short of China's 4.91 million vehicle exports in the same year, a remarkable 58% surge compared to 2022, as reported by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers in mid-January.
This growth was primarily fueled by an 80% increase in new energy vehicle (NEV) exports, primarily battery electric vehicles (BEVs), exceeding 1.2 million units. A significant portion of this increase came from higher Chinese exports to Russia, a market abandoned by Japanese and Western automakers in 2002 after the Ukraine invasion.
These statistics mark the first time in seven years that Japan has lost its title as the world's largest automobile exporter. In 2016, Germany briefly claimed the top spot but faced export declines following the dieselgate data scandal, especially affecting Volkswagen (VW).
The data also sheds light on an interesting aspect related to Elon Musk's stance on Chinese car exports, particularly EVs. While Musk warned of the dangers posed by the surge in Chinese car exports, he inadvertently criticized his own company, Tesla, as a major China-based EV exporter.
Tesla, in fact, emerged as China's leading EV exporter in 2023, surpassing BYD, the world's largest NEV manufacturer, which shipped over 240,000 units, including battery-powered and plug-in hybrids. Tesla's exports from its massive Shanghai factory increased by 27% from 271,000 in 2022.
In contrast, BYD began manufacturing EVs (both battery and plug-ins) in the same year, showcasing impressive growth but still trailing Tesla in the Chinese market.
Australia is also becoming a significant market for Tesla's vehicles produced in Shanghai, with BYD gradually narrowing the gap with Musk's company in this region.
Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.