The phenomenally weak market in the U.S. is setting record lows on a regular basis, and today is no exception: China has surpassed the U.S. in total car sales for the month of January.

Conservative estimates for 2009 have the U.S. market selling 10.5 million or more vehicles, but so far this year the annualized rate only points to a tally of 9.5 million. China, on the other hand, is primed to hit 10.7 million units by year's end, reports The Globe and Mail.

A confluence of events - the U.S. market's decline and the meteoric rise of China's - have led to the role-reversal. Though even the economic juggernaut that is China has slowed to a crawl in recent months. America's unabated slide into the lowest sales figures in several decades make China's situation look rosy by comparison.

And in fact, China has ridden a wave of positive firsts of late, including introducing the first commercially available mass-produced plug-in hybrid vehicle, in the form of the BYD F3DM (pictured). The company even has plans to export the car to the U.S. market by 2010, potentially up-ending the sales relationship between the two countries even further.

On the other hand, U.S. sales are forecast to slow their descent before returning to a gradual increase sometime around 2010, eventually heading back up to 12 million units per year or more.