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China's Auto Market to Maintain Fast Growth
The fast growth of China's auto industry attracted much attention during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The surging market again indicated the importance of China in the global vehicle industry. China's huge buying potential was evident before the influence of SARS and is set to continue, according to industrial analysts.

With one tenth of the total national market, the car market in Beijing has been booming. Due to gradual changes in consumption trends, China's auto market will not cool down significantly after SARS, said Zhang Xiaoyu, vice president of the China Machinery Industry Federation.

According to his prediction, if China's auto industry maintains the same high growth of 37.6 percent in the first four months, the output will reach two million by the end of 2003.

The pursuit for independent and secure traveling space propped up China's flourishing sedan market. Families with cash in hand but still waiting bought sedans directly after SARS. Families that did not have enough savings bought using installment plans.

Household sedans, as an independent and free transportation vehicle, were accepted by more and more Chinese people. The disease induced a concept, a demand, and changed some people's consumption habits, said Kenneth Hsu, vice president of Ford Motor China.

Sun Li, a bank employee, drove his new green Polo on less busy streets in downtown Beijing. He said, a car was just as necessary as a mask. Installment payments enabled him to fulfill his dream earlier. Loans became more popular among potential buyers and in Beijing alone, 30 percent of buyers in March opted for installment plans. The figure rose to 50 percent in April.

Some auto manufacturers responded quickly when SARS came. In May Sonata promoted the first air-cleaning equipment, which can automatically clean out dust and keep fresh air within the car.

"Some 352 such vehicles were sold in China in one week. Paying attention to environment and health will lead more manufacturers to develop and explore clean sedans," said Sonata salesman Chen Shiqiang.

Improved sales methods will attract more customers. The procedure of buying license plates and insurance was made easier during the SARS period. China can shorten and facilitate license plate applications by combining Internet and traditional sales systems, said Jia Xinguang, a professional auto researcher.

Pushed by high demand, many manufacturers chose to increase output capacity. Analysts said SARS will not only influence the consumption but also the production of the vehicle market nationwide.

Statistics showed China's sedan output reached 165,000 in April, up 85 percent compared with the corresponding period last year. Sales amounted to 120,000. In Beijing alone, over 1,600 new motor vehicles were registered on average every day, with the peak day reaching 2,263.

Many economic sedans became cheaper in May. Some 30 new types will debut in the second half of 2003. Experts said lower prices and new products will benefit consumers.

Government support propelled China's surging auto market. In order to promote economic development in the SARS period, China will hurry to issue related auto policies. Experts said the auto industry, with high expectation of stimulating internal demand, will shoulder more responsibility to ensure the fulfillment of China's annual economic goal.

(Xinhua News Agency May 30, 2003)

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