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Demand for Autos Moves into High Gear
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More than 1,500 domestic and international vehicle manufacturers and automotive buffs are revving up for the 2006 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, which opens on Saturday.


During the 10-day automotive banquet, 556 vehicles will be displayed, with six models made by foreign marques making their global debuts.


The event comes at a time when China's automotive market has returned to the fast lane. In the first three quarters of this year, sales of domestically manufactured vehicles surged by a quarter to 5.17 million units.


China has become a big bonanza for global automakers. It is widely anticipated to overtake Japan's position as the world's second biggest vehicle market this year and unseat the United States as the No 1 within the next 10 to 15 years.


Ford Motor Co, which is floundering with sales plunges and huge losses in the US market, is the biggest exhibitor of the Beijing auto show. Ford is displaying 52 models with its affiliated brands Mazda, Volvo, Lincoln, Land Rover and Jaguar in a 5,000-square-meter booth.


Cheng Meiwei, Ford Motor's vice-president and chairman of Ford Motor China, yesterday predicted that China will account for 50 percent of the world's auto market growth during the next 10 years.


"Ford Motor has been implementing a modular growth strategy with a clear long-term blueprint to become one of the key players in the market and growing our capacity in line with market demand in a timely fashion," Cheng said.


He said Ford's annual production capacity in China will reach 410,000 units by the end of next year, up from 20,000 units in 2003.


Ford is a relatively late-comer to China in terms of local vehicle production. It lags far behind Volkswagen and General Motors, who are the current market leaders in China.


The company runs a joint venture with Mazda and China's Chang'an Motor Corp in Chongqing Municipality in the southwest. Together, they are building a new plant in Nanjing, capital city of East China's Jiangsu Province, which is expected to be operational by 2007.


Cheng said Ford is investing US$20 million into the first phase of creating a new a research and engineering center in Nanjing.


The center will both work with Ford's joint ventures in China in product development and serve its multiple brands globally, he said.


He estimated Ford and its affiliated brands will sell a total of 300,000 vehicles in China this year, up from 220,000 units last year.


The venture in Chongqing is making Ford Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo, Mazda3 and Volvo S40. It will introduce a European S-MAX next year.


As the market leader in China for two decades, Volkswagon, together with its subsidiaries Audi, Skoda, Bentley and Lamborghini, is showcasing 42 new models in a 4,459-square-meter venue.


The group announced that it has upgraded the biennial Beijing auto exhibition to an "A Class" show, replacing Tokyo's.


The Beijing motor show will be on the same level with those in Geneva and Frankfurt for Volkswagen, it said.


"China has been one of Volkswagen Group's most important markets in the world. It is growing rapidly and still has huge potential in the future. Our endeavours in the Beijing auto show demonstrate our high hopes for the China car market," said Winfried Vahland, executive vice-president of the German carmaker.


(China Daily November 20, 2006)


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