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1. China

2011 sales forecast: 17.7 million
2010 vehicles sold: 17.2 million
Estimated growth: 3%

China established itself as the world’s biggest car market in 2009 after vehicle sales jumped a whopping 46 percent over the previous year. Auto sales leaped another 32 percent in 2010, helping China extend its lead over the U.S.

Government incentives such as tax breaks and rural subsidies have helped China’s annual vehicle sales rise by double digits over the past few years. But those stimulus measures have come to an end, leading to slower growth.

The country’s largest auto market, Beijing has also introduced limits on car registrations, raising fears the auto market may slow further. In May 2011, China’s auto market posted its first decline in two years, as sales dipped 0.1 percent from a year earlier. Auto sales are up about 6 percent for the first seven months of the year.

The Chinese government has encouraged foreign automakers to establish joint ventures and share technology with local companies. That’s resulted in numerous home-made brands such as Geely, Chery and Dongfang.

The most popular vehicle in the country in 2010 was the Wuling Sunshine, with over 750,000 units of the car sold in that year. The van is made by a joint venture between GM, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) and Wuling Automobile and retails for about $5,000. The next most popular vehicle was the Chana Mini Bus made by Changan Auto, with nearly 240,000 units of the model sold in 2010.

Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images