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Great Ball of China

BS Motoring | June 19, 2004

Photo: AFP/Getty ImagesIt's the world's biggest automotive party and everybody is invited. Automotive manufacturers are having a ball of a time in China, as car sales have shot up by 75 per cent this year and it is expected to touch the 10 million car mark by 2010.

China is the world's fastest growing automobile market. Every car maker worth his salt, even the small volume Dutch sports car maker, Spyker, is trying to sell its wares in the country.

China recently announced an enlightened auto policy, which makes it even more worthwhile for automakers to invest in the country. Right after the auto policy was unveiled, General Motors announced that they are investing three billion dollars (yes, three billion dollars) in China.

Ford followed it up saying they are going to triple their production while Volkswagen, the market leader with 30 per cent share, is setting up a sophisticated engine plant in China.

Yes, the entire automotive world is focused completely on our neighbour and putting their money where their mouth is. Here then, is what happened in Beijing at Auto China 2004.

Cad's whiskers

It's official now. China gets the Cadillac brand. The CTS, SRX and XLR, the cars which were used in the recent Matrix movies, were recently unveiled at Beijing's Imperial Ancestor Temple and they will be sold through 11 new dealerships across major Chinese cities.

These new Cadillacs have garnered acclaim worldwide, as being very new-age Euro in character. The XLR has, in fact, been favourably compared with the Mercedes-Benz SL500, with the American car coming out on top in most comparison tests.

Initially, all these models will be imported from General Motors' plants in the US. Once the manufacturer's Shanghai facility -- the only plant outside the US to produce Cadillacs -- comes on line, local assembly operations will commence.

Chinese Lex-icon

Even Toyota's luxury marque is joining the Chinese bandwagon. Toyota has announced that they are planning to set up six exclusive dealerships in four cities for Lexus by the end of this year. The Lexus dealer network in China will go up to 14 outlets by the middle of next year.

Lexus also showed the LF-C luxury sports coupe concept car, which, according to the company, is 'designed to define and launch an entirely new direction in styling for the Lexus brand.'

The LF-C sports a four-position power-retractable hardtop, which transforms the car from coupe to convertible to targa to speedster -- all at the touch of a button.

The rear-wheel-drive platform utilises a high-output, front-mounted V8 engine, mated to a six-speed sequential automatic transmission. The car is big enough to accommodate four adult passengers.

Have some Chinese Teana

No, it's not a new brand of tea-based eco-friendly fuel, but the new Nissan luxury car for China. Shown at the Beijing Motor Show, the Teana is called Tian Lai in Chinese, which, hold your breath, is 'the beautiful sound of nature.' Built by Dongfeng Motor Company, the Teana is a well-balanced, good looking car and falls within the new Nissan design language.

The new car adopts Nissan's FF-L (front engine, front-wheel drive, large) platform and boasts air massage seats, dual zone climatiser, xenon lamps, a host of safety features and a rear view monitor too! The Teana is powered by Nissan's brilliant 245 bhp 3500cc V6 which is mated to an auto'box and can attain 100 kph in 7.9 seconds.

Propeller shift

In what seems like no time, China has become one of BMW's 10 largest markets in the world. To consolidate their position in the country, they have just inaugurated a plant in Shenyang, in the north-east of China, to manufacture 3-series and 5-series cars through a joint venture with Brilliance China Automotive Holdings. The plant has an annual capacity of 30,000 units.

The East is Red

Remember this famous Chinese anthem? Well, Mao didn't think it could come this true. After launching a new showroom in Moscow to sell their entire line-up, the Ferrari Maserati Group has set up a new showroom in Shanghai, China as well.

To commemorate the event, around 70 Ferraris and Maseratis from all over China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia drove through the streets of Shanghai.

Ferrari and Maserati will follow this up with more outlets in the country. And they also threw a huge bash to introduce the 612 Scaglietti to the Chinese market -- the first time Ferrari has ever launched a new model with as big an event.

Last grasp

With its Japanese and American markets in disarray and finances near collapse, Mitsubishi is counting on China to pull them back from the brink of disaster. DaimlerChrysler is effectively divorcing itself from Mitsubishi in most matters, but the two manufacturers expect to stay partners in China.

The Beijing Jeep plant is currently producing two Mitsubishi models, including the new Outlander, and DaimlerChrysler will soon begin producing Chinese versions of small C- and D-segment cars developed jointly.

Mitsubishi is also seeking its own Chinese partner, with whom they can produce versions of small passenger cars that they can sell separately under the Mitsubishi brand name. Also, the Grandis minivan was unveiled at the show and is slated for introduction in October this year.

Copycatch!

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is a buzzword in China these days. Forget DVDs, the Chinese are pirating car designs. Honda and Toyota designs have been ripped off in the recent past, but the latest entrant is the Cherry QQ, a Daewoo Matiz/Chevrolet Spark clone that was on prominent display.

General Motors is already investigating the QQ, and Phil Murtaugh, GM's top executive in China, said he was hopeful that new government rules for the auto industry would promise to protect intellectual property rights in China.

In the meanwhile, the Cherry QQ (which costs about 33 per cent less than the Chevy Spark) is already outselling the Spark by about six-to-one in the Chinese market.



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