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U.S. Automakers Score Big in China

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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Comments (7)
  1. A rising tide lifts allboats, including unreliable VW and crappy US products

    (Actually, the Buicks produced in China, as I saw firsthand, are far superior in both exterior and interior styling than the boats Buick sells in the US)

    Buick is so popular a name in China, that even the woest losers, the Bankrupt Daewoo from korea which GM bought and sells its crappy vehicles as Chevys in the US and Europe (eg the execrable Aveo)

    In China, it re-badges them as "buicks"

    Talk about putting lipstick on a pig...

  2. Buick is NOT the number-one selling nameplate in China. It has been second after Volkswagen for a couple of years up to 2005, dropped to 3rd place in 2006 (after Volkswagen and Honda) and last year Buick was on 5th place after Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota and Chery.
    Volkswagen Jetta and Santana (both models from the '80s), Daewoo-based Buick Excelle, Toyota Camry and Corolla, and Chery QQ (similar to Daewoo Matiz minicar) are among the top sellers. The LaCrosse is around place 20.



  4. Martin, have another look at the totals for 2007. I'm afraid you are way off. Buick clearly ranked second in the China market. But you are right about VW being at the top again....and it will be awhile before anyone tops them.

    As for Chrysler's inherited joint venture, located in the heart of Beijing, although it was the first foreign JV, it could never come close to competing with its early (1984) rival VW in Shanghai, far from the seat of central government.

  5. Dragin, you are right on corporate level. GM (Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac) is second after Volkswagen, however Toyota (under half a million) and Honda (428,000) are before Buick (320,000). So Buick as a nameplate was on 4th place in 2007 before Chery: its 381,000 sales are including 31% exports. I overlooked this in my earlier comment, thanks for keeping me sharp. Ford's Focus is among the top 10 best sellers as well.

  6. Correction: Buick sold 332,115 vehicles in 2007.
    Including the minibuses by Wuling, in which GM has a 34% stake, GM sold more than 1 million vehicles, more than the over 900,000 sold by Volkswagen/Audi/Skoda.

  7. And my correction Martin: I meant to say GM, not Buick, ranked second. But I think that until now the distinction between the two was not that great in the mind of the Chinese. Names like Chev and Cadillac are still new to them.
    But thanks for the numbers clarification. It is indeed hard to see the true totals picture when there are so many joint venture shareholders involved.
    In any case keep an eye on Toyota....they are gaining fast.

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