General Motors (GM 0.74%) said this week that its China deliveries rose 69% in the first quarter from a year ago as it continued to benefit from a product-line overhaul and the country's recovery from the pandemic. 

GM and its joint-venture partners delivered over 780,000 vehicles in the first quarter, a sharp rebound from the first quarter of 2020, when much of China was shut down amid the initial coronavirus outbreak. But it was less than the 814,000 vehicles that GM and its partners delivered in the first quarter of 2019, suggesting that the company still has work to do.

GM, like most global automakers, participates in China's auto market through a series of joint ventures with domestic Chinese automakers. Those joint ventures build and sell vehicles under the Buick, Cadillac, and Chevrolet brands, as well as several lower-cost brands unique to China including Baojun, a youth-focused lifestyle brand, and Wuling, a maker of small vans including China's best-selling electric vehicle (EV).

GM said that it sold over 72,000 examples of that EV in the first quarter. Called the Hong Guang Mini EV, it's a very small two-door hatchback that seats four people in tight quarters and has a range of just over 100 miles. It's not exactly a rival to Tesla, but at a starting price under $5,000, it's appealing to Chinese commuters on a budget who want to take advantage of China's government incentives and rules favoring EVs. 

A blue Hong Guang Mini EV, a tiny electric commuter car.

China's best-selling EV in the first quarter wasn't a Tesla or a NIO. It was the little Hong Guang Mini EV, built by a GM joint venture. Image source: General Motors.

More-familiar GM models also sold well in China in the first quarter, including the Cadillac CT5 sedan and XT6 crossover, the Buick LaCrosse sedan, and an upscale Buick minivan called the GL8. 

Rival Ford Motor Company (F 0.17%) said on Thursday that its sales in China were up 73% in the first quarter, to about 154,000 vehicles.