General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) said it sold more vehicles in China than it did in the U.S. in 2010, making it the first time in the automaker’s 102-year history that sales in a foreign country surpassed domestic sales.

Overall, sales in China rose by 28.8 percent last year to about 2.35 vehicles, while U.S. sales climbed by only 6.3 percent to 2.22-million.

GM’s next largest market, Brazil, saw a 10.4 percent increase in sales, to about 658,000.
On the whole, GM's global sales advanced by 12.2 percent to about 8.39-million vehicles last year. That was slightly below Toyota’s global sales of 8.42-million.

This is the wave of the future, said George Magliano, an economist at IHS Automotive. The Chinese market is going to grow faster than the U.S., and it will continue to be this way.

The tepid growth in U.S,. was partially attributed to the fragile American economy as well as to GM’s decision to discontinue or sell of its Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Saab brands as part of its financial restructuring.

GM took the big risk moving into China with Buick some years ago, but now its global footprint is actually better than even Toyota's, Magliano added said. Ford has made some good moves, but they are still trying to catch up in emerging markets.

GM recently estimated that it will export about $900 million in vehicles and components to China over the next two years.

General Motors is going strong, and it's a sure sign of its re-emergence, said Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst with Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo.

China supplanted the U.S. as the biggest auto market in the world in 2009.