BEIJING: China's long march to economic supremacy continues apace as new data reveals it overtook the US last year in passenger car production. A report from the Bank of America shows China produced around 5.2 million cars in 2006 compared with 4.4m in the US.

Ten years ago its output was just 5.4% of American production. That figure has surged 16-fold since 1997, while US production growth has stuttered to a halt as the emphasis of the Detroit Big Three - General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Group - has switched from cars to SUVs. All are now struggling for market share and have suffered huge financial losses.

Joseph Quinlan, the Bank's market strategist believes the figures will prompt "more fear and angst in Washington", but China's emergence as a significant domestic market has, nevertheless, helped Detroit's automakers.

GM and its local partners boosted sales in China by 32%, giving them a market share of 11.8%, while DaimlerChrysler has inked a deal with China's Chery Automobile to build small cars bearing the Chrysler badge for export to the US and Europe.

Chinese factories already produce around 70% of the planet's toys, 60% of bicycles and half of the world's shoes and microwave ovens.

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff