Geely going all out

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Plans 12 new models - while buying Volvo and rolling out electric vehicles

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd, which is close to finalizing a deal to buy Swedish luxury car brand Volvo from Ford Motor Co, plans to roll out a dozen new own-brand models this year.

Zhao Fuquan, vice-president of research and development at the privately owned carmaker, said the company will offer 12 all-new and upgraded products in 2010, including its first sports-utility vehicle (SUV) and first large-sized sedan.

The new models will have an engine capacity ranging from 1.0 to 2.8 liters, Zhao said.

Geely, with its headquarters in Hangzhou, capital city of coastal Zhejiang province, will also put its purely electric-powered and plug-in hybrid cars into small-volume commercial production this year, he added.

Liu Jinliang, the group's vice-president for sales and marketing, said Geely aims to sell 400,000 cars this year, up from 330,000 units in 2009. Its sales surged by 48 percent last year from 2008.

Liu said Geely also plans to make 8,000 to 10,000 cars this year in a plant in Taiwan owned by local partner Yulon Motor Co Ltd that will be sold on the island as well as in the Philippines, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.

Geely signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Yulon at the end of last year for research and development, manufacturing, sales and spare parts.

Geely's first model made in Taiwan is the Tobe-branded micro car, which is named the Panda on the mainland under Geely's umbrella badge Gleagle.

Liu said Yulon has built 13 so-called "Tobe Paradise" showrooms in Taiwan.

Geely will also build 300 to 500 showrooms on the mainland for both the Taiwan-made Tobe and its sibling Panda over the next two to three years.

Liu said an electric-powered version of the Tobe with Yulon's lithium batteries will be launched in Taiwan in the third quarter of this year. The model has a range of 179 km after fully charged, a process that takes about 40 minutes. It produces a maximum power of 82 kW.

Mainland motorists have bought more than 30,000 Panda cars since it was launched in November 2008. The model has engine options of 1.0 and 1.3 liters.

The Panda recently achieved a surprising rating of five stars out of a possible five-plus in a Chinese New Car Assessment Program (C-NCAP) crash test conducted by the government-owned China Automotive Technology & Research Center.

The result made the Panda the first China-made micro model to achieve a five-star C-NCAP rating, which is seen as a remarkable advance in quality for China's own-brand auto industry.

"We will strive to enable 80 percent of our future new models to achieve a five-star rating," said Zhao.

According to Geely's long-term plan revealed years ago, the group expects to develop 15 platforms with more than 40 all-new models and derivatives by 2015 to boost its global sales to 2 million units annually by then. It also plans to have a total of 15 manufacturing bases at home and abroad. Besides the Geely and Gleagle brands, the carmaker also has two other major marques - the Emgrand and the Shanghai Englon.

In December, Geely agreed with Ford on all "substantial terms" about the purchase of Volvo. A definitive sales agreement is expected to be inked in the first quarter of this year with a completion of the transaction in the second quarter.

Geely will reportedly pay about $2 billion in a deal that would be the biggest overseas acquisition in China's automotive industry.

Sales revenue of the group, which has a Hong Kong-listed arm Geely Automobile Holdings, grew by 28 percent year-on-year to 16.5 billion yuan ($2.13 billion) in 2009.

Its pre-tax profits last year rose by 35 percent to 2.4 billion yuan. The company's assets totaled 23 billion yuan at the end of 2009, a surge of 64 percent from a year earlier.

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