The 10 Hottest Cars -- in China

Not all of China's top-selling cars are known stateside, but GM has made inroads in Asia, and Ford is ramping things up.
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SHANGHAI (TheStreet) -- China, which last year surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest auto market, offers such a great opportunity for selling cars that General Motors made money there even before it restructured.

(Chevrolet's top-selling car worldwide is the Cruze (below); it ranks sixth on China's top-selling list.)

For

Ford

, China is a candy store -- Ford has a market share of just 2% there and the company says that over the next 10 years, 70% of its growth is expected to come from China and India. "We compete with the same competitors in this region that we compete with around the world,"

Joe Hinrichs, Ford's Asia Pacific president, said in an interview with

TheStreet

."We have much higher market shares in the other places."

In 2009, China saw passenger car sales of 10.3 million and total vehicle sales of 13.6 million, up about 45% from a year earlier. By contrast, light vehicle sales in the U.S. declined 21% to 10.4 million. GM and its partners saw 2009 sales gain 67%; Ford sales rose 44%.

As for 2009 market share,

Volkswagen

was first with 17%, followed by GM with 9%,

Toyota

(TM) - Get Report

with 8% and

Honda

(HMC) - Get Report

and Hyundai each with 7%.

Read on for the top 10 best-selling light vehicles in China through August, as compiled by J.D. Power and Associates.

No. 10: Toyota Corolla

Units sold: 108,349

Prices start at about $20,000

China's tenth best-selling vehicle through August is a familiar name. The Corolla was initially introduced in 2007. "Toyota was the first automaker to keep the old-generation model in the market following the release of the new one, a strategy which has since been duplicated by other automakers," said Ben Asher, J.D. Power's forecasting business manager for China.

Combined Corolla volumes in 2008 made it the best-selling model that year. The current generation model has two engine options: 1.6-liter and 1.8-liter. Asher said that "sales of the 1.8-liter variant were impacted in 2009 following the subsidy for vehicles with 1.6-liter engines and below, which led to the decline of Toyota's market share overall."

The Corolla will receive a major facelift this year.

No. 9: Nissan Tiida

Units sold: 108,456

Prices start at about $16,000

The Tiida began production at the Dongfeng Nissan joint venture in 2005, with both sedan and hatchback variants available.

Said Asher, "the hatchback variant has proved quite successful in the compact car segment with a fashionable design, large interior space, good driving dynamics and high fuel efficiency touted as the winning factors."

Only a 1.6-liter engine option available. The model will have a new generation next year.

No. 8: Volkswagen New Bora

Units sold: 108,914

Prices start at about $16,000

The New Bora is based on the same platform as the Jetta and Lavida.

The car was launched in 2008 with two engine options: 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter. "Part of VW's new powertrain strategy, a 1.4 turbo engine together with a 7 speed DCT transmission, was added in June and replaced the 2.0-liter engine," said Asher.

No. 7: Honda Accord

Units sold: 111,127

Prices start at about $28,000

The Accord is made by the Guangqi Honda joint venture and is the only midsize car among the 10 best-selling models in the market. The current generation was launched at the end of 2007.

Currently, the Accord comes with three engine options: 2.0-liter, 2.4-liter and 3.5-liter. But the 3.5-liter variant will soon be discontinued to give way to the Honda Crosstour fastback, Accord's high-performance variant, which will be launched in October, said Asher.

No. 6: Chevy Cruze

Units sold: 112,792

Prices start at about $16,000

The

Chevrolet Cruze

, which debuts in U.S. showrooms later this fall, is Chevy's best-selling model -- worldwide. It was "developed by a global design and engineering team from both GM Daewoo and Opel and launched in 2009," Asher said. "

The Cruze is designed to attract Chinese customers with its European styling."

No. 5: Buick Excelle

Units sold: 142,116

Prices start at about $15,000

Buick is a

big deal in China, where it sold 447,011 cars last year -- more than four times its U.S. volume -- as sales rose 60%. "Shanghai GM does not plan to stop production of the Excelle despite the recent release of the new-generation Excelle XT/GT," Asher said. SGM believes that "there is still demand for the older version

and a facelift is planned to help extend the lifecycle of the model."

Developed on Daewoo's J2 platform, the Excelle began local production through Shanghai GM in 2003 (it goes by the names Lacetti and Optra in other markets).

No. 4: Hyundai Elantra Yuedong

Units sold: 150,947

Prices start at about $15,000

Based on Hyundai's HD platform, the Elantra Yuedong was launched in 2008 and looks similar to the Toyota Corolla.

Hyundai sold the new-generation model in parallel with the old one, "which proved a successful strategy," Asher said. Both 1.6-liter and 1.8-liter engines are available.

No. 3: Volkswagen Jetta

Units sold: 152,508

Prices start at about $11,000

The Jetta is built by FAW-Volkswagen Automotive joint venture. "It was the first vehicle produced at the JV, with production starting in 1991. It has since undergone two face lifts," said Asher.

The company announced in 2007 that it would build a plant in western China to build the vehicle.

No. 2: Volkswagen Lavida

Units sold: 152,534

Prices start at about $16,600

Based on the fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf platform, this sedan is built by the Shanghai-Volkswagen Automotive Ltd. joint venture.

The car debuted in China in 2008. It is offered with three gasoline engine options: a 1.4-liter turbo, a 1.6-liter, and a 2.0-liter. "Shanghai VW is said to be considering a battery-powered version of the vehicle," said Asher.

No. 1: BYD F3

Units sold: 183,629

Prices start at about $8,200

China's best-selling car is made by BYD Automotive, the company in which

Warren Buffett

invested (although reports said Friday that

Buffett may be selling his stake

).

Based on an older-generation Toyota Corolla platform, the F3 is powered by a 1.5-liter gasoline engine. A battery-powered version is also said to be under development.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed