China represents a huge, and growing, market for new car sales.

But when it comes to choosing greener cars, the country lags far behind the U.S., with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales lower than those of many individual states, let alone the whole country.

Nissan Leaf using CHAdeMO fast-charger

Nissan Leaf using CHAdeMO fast-charger

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers released production data for 2013 that shows just how few "new energy vehicles" were built in the country, as well as how few were sold.

One-sixth the U.S. rate

The 2013 production tally of new energy vehicles built was just 17,533 units. Battery electric vehicles made up the majority of those, at 14,243 units--out of a total of 22 million sales.

That's less than one-tenth of 1 percent. The U.S., by contrast, sold 15.6 million vehicles last year--with 96,000 plug-in electric cars representing 0.6 percent of that total.

MORE: U.S. Plug-In Electric Car Sales For 2013 Near Double Previous Year's

Amazingly, even those low figures represent a 40-percent increase over the 2012 total--possibly a small but positive sign Chinese manufacturers and consumers are coming around to the idea of greener vehicles.

Sales were similarly biased toward fully battery-electric cars--17,642 plug-in cars were sold, also a 40-percent year-on-year increase, of which 14,604 were battery-electric vehicles.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

2014 Chevrolet Volt

Volt, Leaf each outsell China

Both Chevrolet's Volt and Nissan Leaf sold more units individually than plug-ins were sold across the whole of China, reaching 23,094 and 22,610 sales respectively in in the U.S. in 2013.

China's plug-in sales look even more miniscule when compared to the Chinese market as a whole.

Overall production and sales in China rose to 22,116,800 and 21,984,100 units respectively last year--meaning plug-in vehicles represent just 0.08 percent of both production and sales figures in the country.

While the U.S. total 0.6 percent of 2013's vehicle sales is still a small figure, the 2013 total nearly doubled that of 2012--and it seems clear that electric cars will gain market share in the coming years.

In China, that's less certain. But give Chinese buyers the right car--Tesla's Model S, for example--and even China could find itself warming to electric vehicles.


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