China’s rapidly expanding vehicle fleet, increasing manufacturing industry and insatiable demand for new cars has pushed the country to world’s biggest auto market status, outpacing the U.S. for the first time in history.

Thanks to government incentives and a range of new models being launched, passenger vehicle sales in the world’s most populace country topped 10.3 million units while total vehicle sales are estimated at a around 13.6 million. This represents a staggering 45% increase in vehicle sales compared with just one year ago--and this was during the global financial crisis.

Some of the incentives offered by the Chinese government included lower taxes on fuel-efficient cars and subsidies for commercial vehicles.

Sales numbers in the U.S. were quite the opposite, dropping 21% over the course of 2009 to 10.4 million vehicles.

Additionally, for the first time since Word War II, the annual number of vehicles scrapped in the U.S. exceeded the number of new vehicles sold. During 2009 about 14 million vehicles were retired, effectively shrinking the U.S. fleet by almost four million vehicles, or about 2% of the total fleet, down to 246 million.

[The Detroit News]