General Motors said Tuesday that it sold 9.71 million cars last year, beating out rival carmaker Volkswagen but likely only holding onto second place behind world leader Toyota.
GM said it managed a four percent gain in global sales despite tough conditions in depressed Europe and slowdowns in Latin America and parts of Asia.
Sales grew seven percent in the United States and 11 percent in China, now the world's leading markets.
GM unit Chevrolet sold a record 4.98 million cars and trucks, while its luxury brand, Cadillac, gained 28 percent on the back of strong sales of 50,000 units in China alone.
The 2013 performance kept GM solidly in front of German rival Volkswagen, which sold around 9.5 million vehicles last year.
But Toyota, which has not yet reported official figures for last year, is expected to remain on top.
Based on the first 11 months of the year, the Japanese giant was on pace to break 10 million vehicles for the year, the first time any auto maker has broken that threshold.
"A healthy auto market in the United States and China ... drove GM's growth in 2013 and helped us navigate difficult conditions in Europe and parts of South America and Asia," GM executive vice president Dan Ammann said.
The company's Buick and Opel/Vauxhall marques both sold just over one million units, with Opel/Vauxhall picking up a gain in Europe market share to more than five percent, GM said.
The successful year capped GM's comeback from bankruptcy and a government bailout during the 2008 economic crisis.
It also laid out a challenge for incoming chief executive Mary Barra, named in December to take over as the first woman ever to lead a major auto company.
Barra, 51, officially takes the reins on Thursday, succeeding Dan Akerson, who is credited with helping bring the US auto industry leader back from its near-death experience.
Akerson, 65, was expected to retire sometime this year, but moved up the date to care for his wife, suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, the company said.
Launching a new GMC mid-sized pickup truck on Sunday, Barra said that under her the company's focus will be car design and consumer needs, and not what company accountants think is best.
GM shares opened higher on Tuesday, adding 0.7 percent to $39.87.