China became the world's biggest car exporter in 2023 for the first time, industry data showed, dethroning Japan with strong overseas sales of electric vehicles.

Data from a Japanese trade organization, released Wednesday, showed the country's car exports in 2023 rose 16 percent from a year earlier to 4.42 million vehicles, falling behind China that saw a 58 percent increase to 4.91 million vehicles.

Japan was overtaken for the first time since Germany ranked top in 2016.

Photo taken in November 2023 shows Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD's booth at Guangzhou auto show in Guangzhou, China. (Kyodo)

Demand for all-electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions is growing around the world, with China's automakers such as BYD Co. boosting exports on the back of strong support from the Chinese government.

Chinese exports of gasoline-powered cars to Russia also rose, after Japanese, U.S. and European automakers pulled out of the market due to the war in Ukraine.

Wednesday's data showed Japan's car exports rose for the first time in two years but fell short of the pre-pandemic level of 4.82 million vehicles in 2019.

Japanese automakers such as Toyota Motor Corp. have been reviewing their production strategies in recent years, aiming to rely less on gasoline-powered cars and ramping up sales of gasoline-electric hybrids, which in many cases have higher mileage than pure EVs.

Maintaining its top position could prove a challenge for China as global EV sales have shown signs of slowing recently due to high prices and a shortage of charging stations, experts said.

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