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China's car craze on display

  • China has eclipsed the U.S. as the world's largest auto market
  • Automakers are unveiling 89 new models at the Auto China 2010 show
  • China market is a lifeline for the beleagured auto industry

Bejing, China (CNN) -- The axis of the automotive world has shifted east.

Forget Detroit and the troubles that have beleaguered U.S. automakers. While the global auto market has contracted through the financial crisis, vehicle sales in China have soared -- with Chinese sales eclipsing the U.S. as the world's top auto market for the first time.

The importance of China to global automakers is evident at Auto China 2010 in Beijing. The show, which runs through May 2, is the stage from which automakers from Japan, North America, Europe and China have unveiled 89 new models.

The China market has been a lifeline for General Motors, the Detroit carmaker which until recently was the largest automobile company in the world. Since being overtaken at the top spot by Toyota, the company had to declare bankruptcy last year.

Video: Long cars featured at Beijing Auto Show
  • China
  • Automobile Sales

But in China, GM is the number one car maker, with sales there surpassing 2 million for the first time -- four years ahead of company projections.

GM has made its mark in the China market by selling small, affordable cars. But many luxury brands such as BMW and Ferrari are raking in sales as well -- the luxury market is the fastest growing segment of China's growing car culture.

Many Western designs are being retailored for the Chinese market. For instance, many of the new models have stretched space in the back seat -- where many affluent Chinese car owners sit. One prototype by Chinese carmaker Geely even takes this to the next level: The Geely Emgrand GE, a plug-in hybrid limousine, features only one rear passenger seat.

CNN's John Vause and Wen-Chun Fan contributed to this report