A surge of Russian demand has made China the world’s biggest car exporter

A security guard stands watch over high-end cars in China.

One of Xi’s public displays of cracking down on corruption included seizing more than 100 high-end cars used by officials.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

  • A surge in Russian demand has made China the world’s top car exporter, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • Chinese brands have flooded the Russian market since the war in Ukraine began.

  • European, Japanese, and Korean car brands meanwhile have largely left Russia.

China’s auto industry appears to have emerged as a beneficiary of Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.

Since Moscow invaded, European, Japanese, and other nations’ vehicle brands have left the Russian market, though China has remained — and surging demand there has helped it notch a record year and surpass Japan as the world’s top auto exporter, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

In 2023, China sold at least five times as many cars in Russia than the 160,000 seen in 2022, data from the China Passenger Car Association showed, per the Journal.

On Tuesday, the group estimated that 5.26 million China-made vehicles were sold overseas over the last 12 months, about a million more than Japan’s automakers.

Russia specifically accounted for about 800,000 of the 2 million additional vehicles China exported in 2023, the Journal reported.

China’s top auto company Chery saw a boom in sales to Russia over that stretch, sending 900,000 cars overseas in total. Automakers Geely and Great Wall Motor similarly saw a sharp uptick in car sales to Russia.

At the same time, domestic demand in China also bounced back in 2023 with its electric-vehicle sector fueling its strongest growth in several years, the car association said. Chinese Tesla rival BYD, for instance, beat out Elon Musk’s company as the world’s top EV seller in the most recent quarter.

Still, since the war in Ukraine began, Russia’s car industry isn’t what it once was compared to pre-war times.

In the aftermath of the invasion, purchases of foreign-made cars in Russia neared a standstill, according to a July report from Yale researchers. A combination of soaring prices, weak consumer sentiment, and dwindling supply has sent domestic car sales crashing to roughly a quarter of pre-war times.

“Russians are just buying less cars, period,” researcher Steven Tian said in an interview with Business Insider at the time. “That speaks to the weakness of the consumer in Russia. This is as close to a proxy to deteriorating consumer sentiment as there is, and the story it tells is profoundly distressing. Russians just aren’t spending money.”

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