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Auto Show: GM High on China Despite 'Volatile' Outlook

General Motors already sells more vehicles in China than in the United States (3.6 million last year, compared to 3.1 million here) and will now controversially import Chinese-made cars to the U.S.

DETROIT — General Motors is bullish on China despite the country’s current economic slowdown, CEO Mary Barra said Sunday on the eve of the Detroit Auto Show.

“It is a very important market and I think it’s going to be more volatile, but we still believe over the long term the market has substantial growth,” Barra said. “We have a great partner and we’re going to continue to really focus on the Chinese customer to make sure we have the right vehicles across Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and our other local brands.”

China is GM’s largest market and sales there hit a record 3.6 million vehicles in 2015, up 5% from a year earlier. GM’s U.S. sales were up 5% at 3.1 million vehicles last year.

In a huge shift, GM will soon begin selling vehicles made in China in the United States. GM’s decision to import the Buick Envision from China — a first for a major automaker — has sparked outrage and is expected to become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“The general strategy we have in the company is to build where we sell,” Barra said. “In this case, it wasn’t economical to tool it here.”

Barra, who was recently tapped as GM’s first female chairman, did not rule out the possibility that the Envision could eventually be built in the United States but said importing it was the only way to round out Buick’s U.S. offerings in the near-term.

The largest U.S. automaker sold more than 1.2 million Buicks in China last year and only 223,000 in the United States.

While the Envision will help boost those numbers by rounding out Buick’s offerings in the fast-growing crossover segment, it is still only expected to reach sales of about 40,000 vehicles in the near-term in the United States.

Barra declined to say whether she was concerned that turmoil on the U.S. stock market could hit demand in the United States, which posted record sales last year.

“What we focus on is performance and what’s in our control,” she said after introducing a new sports car concept, the Buick Avista, at a reception in Detroit. “We’re going to keep working hard to make sure we put vehicles out, keeping the customer at the center of everything we do, building the brand and serving the customer.”

Barra also dismissed rumors that she had met with Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne to discuss a merger.

They did meet recently but it was among a group of auto industry executives brought together by U.S. safety regulators that was “totally focused on the agenda of the department of transportation and (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).”

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016

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