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Automakers wage war for market share
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Athletes from around the world will contend for gold this August during the Beijing Olympic Games, but before the sports gala begins, automakers are already locked in an intense competition of their own to see which will catch the most Chinese buyers.

It promises to be a long match, however, with no immediate winners likely in the world's second-biggest and fastest-growing vehicle market.

Global auto giants and local carmakers are in top gear to parade their products through the 2008 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, which opened on Sunday at an all-new venue.

There are 890 vehicles on display in a total area of more than 180,000 sq m - the largest in Asia - with seven foreign models making their global premieres, 24 Asian debuts and more than 100 China maiden appearances.

The nine-day auto pageant is expected to attract more than 600,000 visitors, according to organizers of the biennial event.

Vehicle sales in China jumped by 21.4 percent year-on-year to 2.58 million units in the first quarter of this year. Full-year sales are predicted to hit 10 million units, up from 8.79 million in 2007.

US carmaker Ford Motor Co, together with its Japanese unit Mazda and other affiliate brands, is showing 55 vehicles - including six concept models and one making Asian premiere - in a combined booth of 5,500 sq m, which makes it the biggest exhibitor.

Ford is also putting its new powertrain technology, EcoBoost, on show. The turbocharged direct-injection technology provides 15 percent improvement in emissions and up to 20 percent better fuel economy, as well as improved performance.

Bob Graziano, Ford's newly appointed China CEO, says "Ford will be introducing EcoBoost-based products starting in 2009, beginning in North America and then on to other parts of the world, including China".

Ford's group China sales rocketed by 47 percent to 90,791 vehicles in the first quarter.

General Motors and its Chinese joint ventures are displaying 42 models with the Buick Invicta making its global debut.

Rick Wagoner, the group's chairman and CEO, said China may surpass the United States as the world's biggest vehicle market within a decade.

China is to account for more than 40 percent of global auto sales growth during the period, Wagoner predicted.

GM is the top player in China's vehicle market with local sales last year exceeding $1 million units.

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