Tue, Dec 14, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Automakers forecast sales slowdown

WEAKER MARKET Vehicle makers expect sales to grow by just 1 percent next year and, as such, firms like China Motors are looking at markets beyond Taiwan

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Models stand with the new Mitsubishi Galant Grunder, which was launched in Taiwan by China Motors yesterday. Designed by master designer Olivier Boulay, the vehicle is expected to set a new standard for luxury cars in Taiwan. China Motors has won approval from Mitsubishi to export the car to Southeast Asian markets.

PHOTO: KAO CHIA-HO, TAIPEI TIMES

Citing lackluster economies both at home and abroad, local carmakers project that Taiwan's new car sales growth will be less than 1 percent next year, after experiencing a vigorous 17 percent growth this year.

Huang Wen-cheng (黃文成), president of China Motors Corp (中華汽車), said automobile companies will continue promotion campaigns to stimulate the market next year.

But that effort could be offset by a slowdown in the economy, dragged down by rising crude oil prices, the US' dwindling economic growth and China's cooling-off measures, Huang said.

China Motors, the nation's second largest automaker, assembles cars for Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The company expects new vehicle sales to reach 485,000 vehicles next year, from about 482,000 units this year, Huang said.

Huang made the projection yesterday at a press conference to unveil a new passenger model, the Mitsubishi Grunder. The new 2.4-liter model is aimed at the nation's medium-sized, upscale sedan market.

In a bid to lure consumers, the model boasts NT$2 billion-worth of research and development, as well as an exclusive design by Mercedes-Benz's former chief designer, Oliver Boulay, and former president of Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design of North America, Gerhard Steinle, according to China Motors.

"We hope to sell 20,000 units a year, or around a 25 percent market share of the nation's 2.0-liter-to-3.0-liter market, which sees aggregate [sales] of between 55,000 units and 60,000 units annually," Huang said.

The carmaker, which makes vehicles in China with Mitsubishi Motors, is trying to expand its reach to markets beyond Taiwan. Sales of 1.6-liter Mitsubishi Lancer models in China, which China Motors started making there early last year at Southeast Motor Co (東南汽車), have helped the company increase profits, and the automaker says it wants to repeat these gains in other markets.

Therefore, Huang said the company is considering exporting the Grunder model, which has been rolled out and assembled exclusively in Taiwan, to left-drive countries in Southeast Asia sometime next year, with an estimated volume of 10,000 units each year, he said.

The new model is China Motors' first product to be equipped with an engine bigger than 2.0 liters, indicating the company's effort to reposition itself to make inroads into the high-end car market.

With a price tag of between NT$789,000 and NT$949,000, the Mitsubishi Grunder will compete head-on with Yulon Nissan Co's (裕隆日產) Teana sedan launched in mid-October.

Kenneth Yan (嚴凱泰), vice chairman of both China Motors and Yulon Motor Co (裕隆汽車), who attended yesterday's rollout, said that he expected strong competition, but didn't elaborate.

Teana has registered sales of around 1,400 units per month so far since its launch, according to figures by China Motors.

Toyota Camry leads the market with monthly sales of around 2,000 units, the company said.

The nation's new car registrations jumped by 17.1 percent year-on-year to 446,525 units in the first 11 months this year, according to figures compiled by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

Kuozui Motors Ltd (國瑞汽車), which assembles cars for Toyota Motor Corp, led sales with 122,295 units sold in the January-to-November period, with a 27.4 percent market share. This was followed by China Motors, with 84,979 units, or 19 percent of the market, and Yulon's 65,619 units.

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