Mon, Apr 21, 2014 - Page 15 News List

Expo reflects automakers’ drive to back expansion in China amid market fears

AFP, BEIJING

An SUV by China’s Dongfeng Auto is displayed at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in Beijing yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Leading automakers gathered in Beijing yesterday for China’s biggest car show, expressing confidence in the world’s largest car market despite the uncertainty created by lackluster growth and environmental restrictions.

More than 1,100 vehicles are being displayed at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition in the capital’s suburbs, which opens to the public today.

General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen Group and Hyundai Motor Co are among the global manufacturers on the list of attendees, along with SAIC Motor Corp (上海汽車) and Dongfeng Motor Corp (東風), China’s No. 1 and No. 2 domestic automakers respectively.

At Ford Motor Co’s display, president and CEO Alan Mulally rode onto the stage in a bright red Ford Mustang model that is the latest incarnation of the iconic brand, which is celebrating its 50th year.

“How cool is that,” he said after getting out, his red tie matching the vehicle’s paint job.

The expo comes as a growing number of Chinese cities are restricting the number of cars on the road in a bid to battle pollution and congestion — moves analysts warn could cut into purchases.

The eastern city of Hangzhou, a popular tourist destination, last month became the sixth major Chinese city to restrict the number of cars on its roads, with some estimates placing the limit at 80,000 license plates a year.

China’s car sales surged 13.9 percent to 21.98 million vehicles last year, but that growth hit a speed bump last month, slowing to a 6.6 percent year-on-year rise after reaching a record 17.8 percent high in January.

The world’s No. 2 economy has also turned in its weakest performance in 18 months, growing 7.4 percent in the first quarter of the year. Beijing has indicated a willingness to accept weaker growth as it tries to move the economy away from investment and toward domestic consumption.

Despite the concerns raised by these developments, industry players and analysts say the Chinese market’s importance to global manufacturers cannot be overstated.

“I think the market for cars is going to continue to be fantastic,” Mulally told reporters, adding that the promise of increased domestic spending outweighed concerns about congestion.

China’s overall plan “to move to a consumer-based economy” was a key factor “that reduces risk,” he said.

Ford has opened three plants in China since 2012, with four more under construction, Mulally said, adding that the move “is part of our biggest global manufacturing expansion in 50 years.”

Karsten Engel, president and chief executive of BMW AG’s operations in China, said that the German automaker was planning to introduce 10 new models to the Asian giant this year, as well as carrying out more manufacturing and research and development in the country.

“All these efforts are based on our confidence in the long-term development of our success here,” he said.

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