China overtook Japan as the world's biggest vehicle exporter last year, data from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) showed Wednesday.

Japan shipped 4.42 million vehicles in 2023, the figures showed. That compared with 4.91 million exported by China, as reported by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) this month.

China's customs bureau put the number even higher at 5.22 million, a huge year-on-year rise of 57 percent.

China had already been exporting more vehicles than Japan on a monthly basis, but Wednesday's data confirmed that it was also number one for a whole year.

Unlike their Chinese counterparts, Japanese automakers including Toyota -- re-confirmed on Tuesday as the world's largest company by unit sales -- also make huge volumes of vehicles in other countries.

China's auto sector has boomed in recent years in large part because of massive investments in electric cars, an area where Japanese firms have been more cautious.

Japanese manufacturers have long bet instead on hybrids that combine battery power and internal combustion engines, an area they pioneered with the likes of the Toyota Prius.

Chinese company BYD this month snatched Tesla's crown for most sales of all-electric vehicles, having capitalised on Beijing's strong government support for the burgeoning sector.

BYD began life in 1995 as a battery manufacturer, and later turned its attention to producing plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

The Shenzhen-based company competes against Tesla on price inside China and in Europe.