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Old 03-09-2006, 07:47   #1 (permalink)
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China:Ford China joint venture sees '06 car sales doubling

Ford China joint venture sees '06 car sales doubling

Reuters

SHANGHAI -- Ford Motor Co.'s main Chinese car joint venture expects its sales to climb sharply this year, as much as doubling or more on the strength of new models, top executives said on Thursday.

"We will at least double our sales this year," Zou Wenchao, executive vice president of the venture with Changan Automobile Co. Ltd., told Reuters on the sidelines of a company event in Shanghai.

Deputy General Manager Dale Jones was slightly more conservative, saying the company expects to match or exceed its growth rate for 2005.

The second-largest U.S. automaker last year sold 61,013 vehicles from its Changan joint venture, up 41 percent from 2004.

The venture is banking in particular on two new models to boost sales. One of those, the Focus, which was introduced last fall, has been extremely popular, with dealers reporting that demand has outstripped supply in some cases.

Zou said the venture had sold more than 10,000 Focuses in the first two months of 2006 and expected to sell at least 5,000 to 6,000 each month this year.

"Focus will be a major contributor to our growth," he said.

The other new model, the Mazda3, will go on sale this month. The growth target would easily outpace the broader China auto market.

Chris Gubbey, executive vice president of General Motors' Chinese car venture, has said the market should grow 10 to 15 percent in each of the next four to five years.

The U.S. top automaker could still outpace the market average in 2006, Gubbey told Reuters last month, but he declined to say whether it would match the 35 percent jump seen last year.

Ford is a relative latecomer to the hotly competitive Chinese market, which is led by GM and Volkswagen AG, with Asian players such as Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp. catching up fast.

Along with partner Mazda Motor Corp., in which it owns a third, Ford sold 220,000 units in China last year.

By comparison, GM -- which in 2005 unseated Volkswagen as the top foreign seller in China -- sold 665,390 vehicles in that year, while its European rival moved 550,876 units.

Ford intends to invest $1 billion in China in the coming years and was expanding a plant in Chongqing to give it the capacity to make 200,000 cars a year.

Along with partners Mazda and Changan Auto, it also is building another factory in the eastern city of Nanjing with initial annual capacity of 160,000.

That would give Ford a combined annual capacity of 360,000 units by the first half of 2007 -- an 18-fold increase from four years ago, executives said.

Other foreign players fighting for bigger shares of the China market are also on the move.

Honda Motor Co.'s venture in central China has just completed a $347.9 million (2.8 billion yuan) expansion, quadrupling its annual capacity to 120,000 units.

Hyundai, aiming to more than double its China sales to 1 million units by 2008, is also set to build a second Chinese plant with its local partner.
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