China has been the Volkswagen Group’s biggest market for a good number of years, but things are changing for the German auto giant. 

The group as a whole, which includes brands like Volkswagen, Audi, and China-only Jetta, saw its sales increase in this part of the world last year. But this wasn’t enough to stop the Volkswagen name from going down to the second spot on China’s best-selling car brands list, behind local giant BYD.

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Volkswagen goes down in China after over a decade of rule

Chinese automaker BYD passed the Volkswagen brand and became China's best-selling marque in 2023. On a group level, however, the VW Group remains China's biggest automaker.

After almost 15 years of reign as the country’s best-selling automaker (data from the China Automotive Technology and Research Center is available from 2008), Volkswagen’s sales numbers were weaker than BYD’s. And that’s considering VW sells both combustion- and battery-powered passenger cars here, while BYD has placed its bet firmly on the so-called new energy vehicle (NEV) segment which only includes all-electric and hybrid-electric models.

When looking at the numbers, the difference is small, but it represents a big win for BYD and a historic loss for VW, which was the first European automaker to set up shop here in the 1980s. According to data from China’s Automotive Technology and Research Center, BYD saw 2.4 million new domestic car insurance registrations in 2023. Combined deliveries of the Volkswagen brand and Jetta subbrand also approached 2.4 million.

Subtract the Jetta deliveries–the exact number hasn’t been published–and you get BYD on the top spot of the best-selling car brands in China.

It’s worth noting that registrations and deliveries aren’t quite the same thing, so take that with a grain of salt. Cars can be delivered but some may remain uninsured for some time for various reasons. Also, the Volkswagen Group hasn’t published brand-specific details on Chinese deliveries for 2023. Instead, it focused on growth in its annual deliveries report.

2024 Volkswagen ID.6 Crozz

2024 Volkswagen ID.6 Crozz

BYD Seal

BYD Seal

On a group level, Volkswagen AG (which includes Audi, Porsche, Bentley, and others) is still the biggest automaker in China, with sales reaching nearly 3.24 million units last year, an increase of 1.6 percent compared to 2022. By comparison, BYD sold a smidge over 3 million cars last year globally, so the German conglomerate hasn’t completely lost its mojo.

In the electrified vehicles market, though, BYD is arguably the biggest player in China and possibly the world. In the last quarter of last year, the Chinese automaker sold over a half million all-electric cars and surpassed Tesla, which delivered 484,000 EVs.

The Volkswagen Group delivered 771,100 all-electric vehicles last year worldwide, with 191,800 going to China, where the German company has two joint ventures with SAIC Motor and FAW Group.

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