In another positive sign for the U.S. auto industry, General Motors took the top spot in China sales in 2011, displacing Japanese automaker Toyota to take a dominating share of what the Detroit automaker called its biggest international market.

GM sold 2.547 million vehicles in China in 2011, up 8.3% from the same period a year ago. Toyota, on the other hand, sold 883,000 vehicles in 2011. At 4% year-over-year growth, that’s Toyota’s slowest sales increase in China since 2004.

Ford’s China division posted 2011 sales of 519,390, up 7%.

After many years in the gutter, U.S. automakers seem to be on the rebound. As Forbes’ Joann Muller noted from the North American International Auto Show, “[U.S. automakers are] gaining market share, raking in profits, cranking up production, and welcoming consumers who are finally in the mood to spend.” Detroit’s Big Three are on the comeback after GM and Chrysler were bailed out in 2009, while Ford was on the ropes. Now, they seem to be dancing around the ring.

On the losing side we find Toyota. The large Japanese automaker suffered the effects of the massive earthquake-cum-tsunami of early 2011, which disrupted its production and reduced its market share. As it repairs its supply chain, Toyota aims to take its China sales north of one million in 2012.

GM is the clear outperformer in China. The largest of the Detroit automakers, GM sold one truck or car every 12 seconds in 2011. The company operates 11 joint ventures in China and two wholly owned foreign enterprises, and counts with more than 35,000 employees. It has expanded its dealership network to 2,700 and now covers all of China’s mainland provinces.

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