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China carmakers flaunt new models in Beijing

Chinese brands spar with Western rivals


08:43 PM April 23rd, 2012

By: Jong Arcano, April 23rd, 2012 08:43 PM

BEIJING—This time, China flaunted its automotive might.

When only a few years back it was just producing lowly passenger vehicles, Chinese automotive companies unveiled several concept cars and production models at the Auto China 2012 here Monday including performance vehicles that were once products solely of the west.

The fast and furious cars are now also made in China.

Backed up by what is now the world’s biggest economy, local giants like Baic, FAW motors, Lifan, Huachen and GAC glamorized their booths at the event, also known as the Beijing International Auto Show, with not just luxury sedans but racing models that seem to target the growing number of moneyed locals now literally living in the fastlane.

Baic, for instance, put on the spotlight the C Series of executive sedan carrying its own B shaped badge and the technology of Swedish Saab.

Baic is the mother company of Foton and, with distribution rights to Mercedes Benz and Hyundai, is considered one of the largest auto firms in all of China.

Foton has in itself spread its influence to the world, particularly the Philippines, where it now holds a considerable share of the commercial vehicle market.

Meanwhile, Ford unveiled a three-cylinder mini-SUV and Chrysler showed a dragon-theme Jeep on Monday as automakers rolled out models designed for Chinese buyers at the auto show amid tougher competition in the world’s biggest vehicle market.

Automakers are looking to China to drive revenue amid weakness in the United States and Europe. But explosive sales growth that hit 35 percent in 2010 fell to just 2 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Ford Motor Co. premiered its latest SUV, the scaled-down EcoSport, designed for “urban adventurers” with a 1-liter engine. The vehicle is due to be manufactured at Ford’s main China factory in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

“This new SUV is specially designed for growth markets like China,” said Kumai Galhotra, Ford’s vice president of product development for the Asia-Pacific region.

Automakers that used to sell the same models worldwide with few local changes increasingly create products with Chinese buyers in mind.

Nissan, Toyota and other automakers also used Auto China 2012 to showcase luxury sedans and SUVs aimed at Chinese buyers. The event, China’s biggest auto show this year, opens to the public on Friday.

Chrysler Group LLC announced it will sell a dragon-themed Jeep, with gold-toned accents and dragon designs on headrests and elsewhere.

“To be successful in China, we must tailor our vehicles to the specific tastes of Chinese customers,” said Mike Manley, Chrysler’s chief operating officer for Asia.—With a report from AP

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