Beijing Auto 2008 Opens Amid Boom in Car Sales

First quarter 2008 saw 20% increase in car sales to 1.85 million

The world's top car-makers descended on China in force on April 20 for the eight-day Beijing Auto Show 2008, which is expected to attract up to 600,000 prospective buyers. Top manufacturers are hoping to cash in on China's booming market which rose by 20% to 1.85 million vehicles in the first quarter of 2008 as sales around the world slumped, organizers said.

Nearly 900 cars will be on display at this year's show with car-makers rolling out their newest models, including environmentally friendly hybrid and electric vehicles.

Big-name companies like General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford and BMW have announced new plans to expand facilities in China to meet growing demand and further localise production.

General Motors is aiming to raise its China sales by 50% over the next three years with new products to feed increasing private demand, GM China group president Kevin Wale said. The automaker will continue to invest one billion dollars annually in product development, advanced technologies and capacity expansion in China. GM plans to launch its first hybrid model, the Buick LaCrosse, in China before the Beijing Olympics in August, and the hybrid Cadillac Escalade in the first half of 2009, said Wale. The company sold a record 1.03 million vehicles in China last year, up 18.5% from 2006, leading the local market for the third consecutive year.

Volkswagen China CEO Winfried Vahland said it hopes to reclaim its place as China's market leader by breaking the one million sales-mark this year. Volkswagen, which entered China as the first foreign car-maker here in 1985, moved 910,500 vehicles in the country last year, up 28%.

Meanwhile, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Bentley, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin, Porsche and Rolls-Royce were all exhibiting in the hopes of capturing a slice of China's growing luxury car market.

Analysts forecast that both China's auto output and sales will continue to expand at double-digit rates in 2008 to 10 million vehicles as the economy grows rapidly.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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