New car sales in the United States plunged more than 20 per cent in 2009 to a 27-year low of 10.43 million units, less than the 12.23 million units sold in China during January-November, making the Asian country the world's largest car market for the first time, data released by a US research firm showed on Wednesday.
The result marked a historic turning point in the world automobile industry, which had been led by the Big Three Detroit companies since Ford Motor Co. began mass production in 1913, introducing the world's first belt conveyor system.
Sales by all automakers operating in the United States totaled 10,429,553 units in the reporting year, down 21.2 per cent from 2008 and the lowest level since 1982, according to Autodata Corp.
In 2009, the US market was severely battered by the worldwide recession that originated in the preceding year's collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
The market also shrank in the reporting year due to reduced operations of General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC following their filing for Chapter 11 proceedings in the year.
New car sales in 2009 represented a drop of about 2.8 million units from 2008 and were 40 per cent lower than the peak of 17.4 million units registered in 2000.
New car sales in the United States surpassed 16 million units for the sixth consecutive year through 2007. But sales tumbled nearly 2 million units in 2008. Sales in 2010 are expected to recover to only 11 million units, according to auto market analysts.