U.S. Automakers Score Big in China

April 9, 2008

Things may be slack at home, but the Big Three U.S. automakers are going gangbusters in the world’s fastest-growing new car market.

First-quarter data from China shows that Ford Motor Co. saw a 47 percent increase in sales during the first quarter of 2007. Ford “has now achieved four consecutive years of strong, continuous growth in China,” noted Robert Graziano, CEO of Motor China,

Ford wasn’t alone. Chrysler saw a big surge, as well. Spurred on by the March introduction of a Chinese-made version of the Sebring sedan, the automaker’s Chinese volume doubled, to 4,839 for the full quarter.

No numbers yet from General Motors, which has been the 800-pound gorilla among Big Three brands targeting the huge Chinese market. Its Buick division is the market’s largest nameplate, with GM and Volkswagen locked in a withering battle for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of China’s fast-growing automotive class. Cars and concept vehicles -- like the Buick Riviera, shown above -- have given GM strong momentum, but the increasing competition in the Chinese market has also forced all makers to hold and even cut prices.

GM risked a lot of criticism -- and a huge investment -- to get into China early, and it has clearly benefited from that decision. Chrysler's Jeep division, then owned by American Motors Corp., was actually the first foreign-owned brand to land behind the Bamboo Curtain, but the automaker didn't take advantage of that position until recently. Ford was a late-comer to China, but along with its Japanese ally, Mazda, it is now pushing aggressively to expand its presence.

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