BYD's lead underscores China's emergence as an electric vehicle (EV) superpower.

Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the battle for supremacy was 'fresh evidence of how competitive the EV market has become' and pointed to 'China's growing influence in the sector'.

"BYD claimed to be a big brand that we had never heard of, but it is a well-known brand in China and one to watch as electric vehicle sales grow worldwide," Streeter said.

2 MILLION BELOW TARGET

Be careful! A blizzard is hitting the US! Be careful! A blizzard is hitting the US!

Tesla sold 1.8 million cars through 2023, a 38 percent increase over 2022. But it fell short of Musk's target of 2 million.

BYD sold a total of 3 million cars last year, including plug-in hybrids, with the company describing itself as the 'world champion' in 'new energy vehicles'.

Tesla remains the world's most valuable automaker with a market capitalization of $790 billion.