General Motors Corp. becomes the first global auto maker to sell 1 million vehicles in China during a calendar year.

Rather fittingly, the milestone vehicle was a Buick Park Avenue, GM’s strongest brand in the region since it began selling the nameplate there nearly 100 years ago. In fact, China ranks as one of GM’s largest national markets, second to North America.

GM China Group President and Managing Director Kevin Wale marked the occasion by handing the keys to the Park Avenue to Zhang Jianping during a ceremony at the auto maker’s corporate showroom in Shanghai. It’s Zhang’s second Buick.

“I appreciate the performance, safety and durability of Buick,” Zhang says in a statement. “In addition, I was very satisfied with the fuel economy of my first car.”

GM sales in China first eclipsed 100,000 units in 2002. As GM steadily grew its lineup of brands and vehicles in the region, sales topped 500,000 units annually in 2005. With seven joint ventures and two wholly owned foreign enterprises, GM presently sells vehicles under six nameplates in the country. Last year, the auto maker sold 876,747 units in China for an estimated market share of 11.8%.

GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner cites a commitment “to continually rolling out new and upgraded models, with specific engineering done in China for China to satisfy the needs of Chinese vehicle buyers across the country.”

In 2007, GM added to its lineup in China the Cadillac SLS luxury business sedan, Park Avenue premium sedan, Chevrolet Captiva cross/utility vehicle, the all-new Chevy Epica intermediate sedan and Wuling Hong Tu minivan.