SHANGHAI - Toyota Motor Corp said on Wednesday it sold 21 percent more cars in China in 2009 compared with a year earlier, lagging rival General Motors' 67 percent gain.

Toyota, which competes with Honda Motor and others, sold 709,000 cars in China in 2009, up from 585,000 units a year earlier, it said in a statement.

That compared with 1.83 million vehicles GM sold in China last year, which also includes 1.06 million mostly mini vans, pick-up trucks made at SAIC-GM-Wuling, its three-way venture with SAIC Motor Corp and Liuzhou Wuling Automobile.

Volkswagen AG has yet to release its annual sales in China, but Winfried Vahland, president and CEO for its China operations said in November he expected the automaker to sell about 1.4 million vehicles in mainland China and Hong Kong last year, up more than 35 percent from 2008.

Analysts attributed Toyota's slower growth to its lack of small cars whose sales have soared this year thanks to government tax incentives.

GM and Volkswagen are a major beneficiary of the policy incentives favouring small cars, while Toyota's portfolio in China is not as broad, said Zhang Xin, an analyst with Guotai Junan Securities.

Still, Toyota's full-year sales marked an acceleration from 13 percent annual growth in the first nine months of 2009 and 17 percent growth in 2008.

The company originally said in a statement that sales were up 121 percent in 2009, but a company official later clarified that the rise was actually 21 percent.

Masahiro Kato, president of Toyota's China operations, said in November that the Japanese automaker was expected to sell about 800,000 cars in China next year.

Earlier last year, Toyota rolled out revamped version of Vios and Yaris compact cars -- both eligible for Beijing's tax incentives.

It also launched RAV4, a sport utility vehicle produced by its venture with FAW Group in April 2009, followed by Highlander SUV, made at its tie-up with Guangzhou Automobile, the next month.

It did not say how many new models it will roll out in China this year.

Auto sales in China, the world's largest market, surged last year, boosted by government incentives aimed at bolstering domestic demand. (Reporting by Fang Yan and Jason Subler; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)