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As recently as 2016, officials at General Motors' Cadillac brand believed it would take another 10 years for sales in China to eclipse domestic sales.

But a surge in Chinese demand and sluggish U.S. performance instead combined to make China the luxury brand's top market for the first time last year.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2017, Cadillac sold more than 175,000 cars in China to the more than 156,000 sold in the U.S.

Cadillac entered the Chinese market — long a strength for GM — in 2006 with just 3,500 vehicles sold. Sales approached 30,000 vehicles in the country by 2012, then jumped to nearly 80,000 in 2015 and more than 116,000 last year. Last year's totals represented another 50 percent jump as Cadillac and other U.S. luxury brands continue to benefit from their legacy appeal among young, wealthy Chinese drivers.

(Image credit: Cadillac)

In the U.S., however, Cadillac continues to see its share of the luxury market eroded by foreign rivals. Sales plummeted in the wake of the Great Recession, but after recovering to more than 182,000 vehicles sold in 2013, they stagnated and fell over the past two years.

Although overseas sales resulted in an increase of more than 15 percent worldwide — and the second-best sales total in the brand's history — lackluster U.S. sales are hindering GM's efforts to boost profitability through sales of higher-margin vehicles.

The brand reportedly hopes to bolster its domestic sales by expanding its portfolio of in-demand SUVs in coming years.

In the meantime, officials lauded the role of China in the brand's recovery and said told the Journal that the trend "allows us to better handle headwinds in other markets.” 

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