- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

BEIJING (AP) — General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. said yesterday that their sales in China’s booming car market jumped last year, a boost for the U.S. automakers, which have seen demand slump in their home markets.

GM, the biggest American automaker, said it sold 876,747 vehicles in China last year, up 32 percent from 2005. It said sales of its flagship Buick brand grew by 24.9 percent to 304,230 units.

“Vehicle sales continued to outpace most projections as a result of unprecedented consumer demand for passenger cars,” said Kevin Wale, president of GM China.

Ford said sales of its brands — which include Ford, Lincoln, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo — rose 87 percent to 166,722 units. Sales of Ford-brand vehicles were up 89.3 percent to 155,404.

Foreign automakers are competing aggressively in China, where sales are expanding at double-digit annual rates and major U.S., European and Asian producers have set up factories.

Vehicle sales this year are expected to rise by 15 percent to 8 million, compared with an estimated 7 million last year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry group.

GM says China is its biggest single national market outside the United States. GM overtook Germany’s Volkswagen AG as China’s No. 1 automaker in 2005 and has an estimated market share of 11.8 percent.

By contrast, the company says its U.S sales of passenger cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in December were down 13 percent from the year-ago period.

GM planned to invest $3 billion in China from 2004 to 2007 in hopes it would drive a revival for the company, which is cutting production and closing factories in its home market in North America.

The automaker set up its first Chinese venture with a $750 million factory in Shanghai in 1998 and now has five joint-venture assembly plants that make nearly all GM vehicles sold in the country. It also has an engine plant and an auto financing venture, and is quickly expanding dealerships.

Ford is in the midst of a $1 billion expansion in China and is building assembly and engine plants in the eastern city of Nanjing, west of Shanghai. Its two existing plants produce Mondeo and Fiesta cars and Transit commercial vans.

“The China market is a critical part in our plans in building a stronger Ford Motor Co.,” said Mei Wei Cheng, chairman and chief executive officer of Ford Motor (China) Ltd. “The outstanding 2006 results clearly indicated that we are on the right track to achieve that goal.”

GM says sales in China and other foreign markets surpassed U.S. sales for the first time last year, reaching 55 percent of the worldwide total of 9.2 million.

Chairman Rick Wagoner said in November that the company would expand in China and “invest ahead of demand,” confident that robust sales growth will continue.

Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp., on track to surpass GM as the world’s No. 1 automaker in the next several years, is well behind GM in China. In 2005, it had 3.5 percent of the market. It has set a target of 1 million annual sales by 2010.

Yesterday, BMW AG’s Rolls Royce said China became its third-largest market last year after the United States and Britain, with sales up 60 percent. The statement did not give sales figures.

Rolls Royce is adding 200 people to the 500-strong work force at its factory in Goodwood, England, to meet demand from China for its $380,000 luxury Phantom cars.

Two Chinese automakers, Geely Automotive Holdings and Chery Automotive Co., are trying to develop into international companies by expanding their range from economy cars and minivans to luxury sedans.

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