China's global dominance in electric cars helped it overtake Japan as the world's biggest vehicle exporter last year, official data confirmed Wednesday.

Japanese giants such as Toyota and Nissan have been much more cautious than their Chinese counterparts like BYD on electric vehicles (EVs), banking instead on hybrid models.

Figures released Wednesday by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association showed shipments of cars, trucks and buses rising 16% to 4.42 million last year.