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Global, Local Firms Jostle for Position
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Five months after Beijing's auto gala, the world's top carmakers are back for the 12th Shanghai International Automobile Manufacturing & Technology Exhibition, or Auto Shanghai 2007, which opens to the public on Sunday.

It is unprecedented for these auto giants to take part in two world-class motor shows in the same country in such a short period of time.

But China's vehicle market, which is not only the second biggest but the fastest-growing in the world, has proven irresistible.

This time they will face stiff competition from emerging local brands. Chinese marques will parade more new products during Auto Shanghai 2007 than ever before.

Vehicle sales in China are expected to grow to 8.5 million units this year from 7.22 million units in 2006 based on a 22.2-percent surge in the first three months, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

US carmaker Ford Motor Co will display 52 models together with its affiliate brands Lincoln, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mazda in an area of 5,000 square meters, up from 50 units last year in Shanghai. 

"China has been of global significance for Ford. We show cars here to attract not only local buyers but also customers from the other parts of Asia and even Africa," said Kenneth Hsu, vice-president of Ford Motor China.

Hsu said the Detroit-based carmaker has elevated the two biennial auto exhibitions in Shanghai and Beijing as two of its top 10 global motor shows.

"We will be watching the development of indigenous brands (from China) closely. But now it's hard to say whether they will succeed or fail ultimately," he said.

Ford's retail sales in China excluding Mazda jumped by 16.4 percent year-on-year to 42,746 from January to March this year, with that of its venture with Chang'an Motor Corp rocketing by 40.8 percent to 38,908 units.

As a latecomer to China, Ford said it will have total production capacity of 546,000 vehicles in the nation by the end of this year.

Hsu said Ford will launch a third-generation Mondeo mid-sized sedan this year and an all-new small car next year at the joint venture with Chang'an.

General Motors (GM), another Detroit-based carmaker, is to exhibit 40 models in a 4,500-square-meter booth, including two Chevrolet and Buick concepts making their global premieres.
Two of its Opel cars will make their Asian debuts in Shanghai.

The company's first-quarter sales in China climbed by a quarter to 291,588 vehicles, enabling it to maintain its status as the top foreign carmaker in the nation.

German-US automaker DaimlerChrysler will display 48 models in Shanghai.

The group's China sales rose by 10 percent to 9,280 vehicles in the first three months, lagging far behind many of its rivals.

"We have an ambitious and realistic target in China as we are investing money in new products and dealer networks here," said Ulrich Walker, chairman of DaimlerChrysler North East Asia, without giving details.

The automaker plans to introduce the Mercedes C-Class and Chrysler Sebring mid-sized sedan into its joint venture with Beijing Automotive Industry Corp later this year.

However, sales of Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler in the United States all plunged in the first three months due to attacks from Asian rivals, signaling how important China's vehicle market is for them.

Europe's largest carmaker Volkswagen will parade 50 models under the Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Bentley and Lamborghini badges in a total area of 6,272 square meters.

As an official partner of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the firm will highlight its latest greener powertrains: a TSI petrol engine, a V6 TDI diesel engine, a Touran EcoFuel, the Polo BlueMotion and a DSG gearbox.

Volkswagen announced last month that it plans to spend US$600 million producing its latest engines and gearboxes to equip all of its China-made cars to cut fuel consumption and emissions by more than 20 percent by 2010 from last year.

The German carmaker's China sales grew by 23 percent to 202,623 units in the first quarter of this year, consolidating its 20-year leadership position in the nation's passenger car sector.
Japan's Toyota Motor will also display 31 vehicles in a 2,500-square-meter area, including the 10th-generation Corolla compact sedan and the Yaris subcompact to be made in China later this year and next. It will be Toyota's biggest exhibit at any motor show in China.

Meanwhile, Chinese brands will also show their muscles during Auto Shanghai 2007.

Top Chinese carmaker SAIC Motor, the partner of GM and Volkswagen, will parade eight own-brand passenger car models, including seven Roewe vehicles and a fuel-cell sedan under the Shanghai brand, which it is reviving after abandoning it 16 years ago.

SAIC last month started selling a Roewe 750 large sedan based on the Rover 75 technology acquired from failed British carmaker MG Rover. The company said the model has been well received. SAIC said it plans to put a smaller Roewe concept sedan, coded W2, into commercial production at the end of this year.

The firm announced last year that it planned to launch 30 own-brand models with a total investment of 10 billion yuan until 2010, and aimed to sell 200,000 units a year by then.

Chery Automobile, the fastest-growing indigenous brand in China, will be the biggest local exhibitor displaying 30 models in a 2,160-square-meter booth.

Its show line-up includes three concept models: the Tiggo6 sport utility vehicle, the A6 Coupe and the Shooting Sport. The company will also display three of its own engines.

Chery sold 44,600 vehicles in March, overtaking GM's flagship venture in Shanghai as the biggest single carmaker in China in monthly sales.

From January to March, Chery's sales surged by 50 percent to 103,000 units, ranking it No 3 in the market.

Chery aims to raise its sales to at least 393,000 cars this year from 305,000 units in 2006.

Brilliance China Auto, the partner of German luxury carmaker BMW, will display seven own-brand cars, including the A1 compact hatchback, and seven engines.

Chang'an Motor is to exhibit three own-brand passenger car models, including a CV8 concept sedan that will be produced commercially next year.

Geely, the privately owned carmaker in Zhejiang Province, will show three concept cars with engine capacity of between 1.6 and 1.8 liters.

(Shanghai Start April 21, 2007)

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