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Foreign auto makers place high hopes on Beijing auto show
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Foreign auto makers will display a large number of new models at the Beijing auto show next week, hoping the booming market in China will offset sales slumps elsewhere in the world.

Big global names saw their sales growth far outpace the industry average in China, where passenger car sales rose 20 percent to 1.85 million in the first quarter.

But new vehicle sales in the United States hit a 15-year low as consumers held back due to concerns about soaring oil prices and the spreading credit crisis.

The biennial Beijing auto show has attracted all the world's major auto makers - including General Motors, BMW, Toyota and Honda - and none of the big names will be absent, the organizers said.

Ford Motor Co. plans to show 55 vehicles in its 5,500-square-meter exhibition space, the largest for a single company in the history of the auto show.

The U.S. auto giant boosted its China sales by 47 percent in the first quarter compared with a year ago, while its U.S. sales dropped 14 percent in March.

Ford had recorded fast growth in China for four consecutive years and would introduce more models and technologies to expand the business in China, Ford China CEO Robert Graziano said last week.

Volkswagen AG will wheel in a record 31 vehicles at the biggest event of the Chinese automotive industry. The largest European auto maker will debut two sedans tailor-made for the Chinese market and showcase the highly anticipated Passat CC sedan and Tiguan sport-utility vehicle for the first time in China.

Volkswagen reported a 32.5-percent jump in China sales in the first quarter, with its two Chinese ventures at the top of the domestic sales rankings. Its first-quarter sales rose only 7 percent globally and declined 0.7 percent in the U.S.

The first foreign auto maker to produce in China would sell a record 1 million cars in the country this year and maintain its position as an industry leader, Volkswagen China CEO Winfried Vahland said.

German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz, which saw its first-quarter sales soar 40 percent in China, nearly four times the global rise, will show 33 vehicles, including the super luxury Maybach and a particularly clean diesel hybrid model.

The fast growth in the world's fourth-largest economy had resulted in a growing rank of nouveau riche and made luxury cars affordable to an increasing number of people.

Vehicle production and sales both surged more than 20 percent to a record 8.8 million units in China last year, in contrast to weakening sales worldwide. Foreign brands held three-fourths share of the Chinese sedan market.

Analysts forecast that both China's auto output and sales will continue to expand at double-digit rates in 2008 to 10 million as the economy grows rapidly and the government tries to encourage people to spend money.

(Xinhua News Agency April 18, 2008)

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