Automakers unveil ambitious China expansion plans

KELVIN CHAN - AP Business Writer
The Associated Press
Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor, speaks during Toyota presentation on the press day at the Shanghai International Auto Show in Shanghai, China, Tuesday, April 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor, speaks during Toyota presentation on the press day at the Shanghai International Auto Show in Shanghai, China, Tuesday, April 19, 2011.

Global automakers unveiled ambitious expansion plans for China on Tuesday, targeting the country's newly prosperous drivers as the industry struggles to recover from Japan's tsunami.

Nissan Motor Co. plans to raise sales by about 15 percent to 1.15 million vehicles this year, said CEO Carlos Ghosn. He spoke as the company unveiled the new Tiida sedan, one of a series of world premieres at Shanghai's auto show by automakers that reflect China's critical importance to their sales.

China is the biggest auto market by number of vehicles sold and is the biggest for General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG, Nissan and other major brands. Automakers are looking to China to drive future sales as growth slows in Western markets, and producers are creating models aimed at China's fast-growing population of car buyers.

"We are paying close attention to what they want and what they need," Ghosn said. He said Nissan is investing heavily to expand production to meet booming demand.

GM said it plans to double the number of cars it sells in China to 5 million by 2015. GM China President Kevin Wale called the target "ambitious" and "aggressive" but he said he's optimistic it could be achieved because of low vehicle ownership rates and a strong economy.

The company will roll out 60 new or upgraded models in China over the next five years, many aimed at newly middle class drivers.

In a sign of China's importance to GM, the company chose the Shanghai auto show for the world premier of its best-selling Malibu midsized sedan, which it plans to sell in nearly 100 countries.

Ford Motor Co. announced plans to launch 15 new vehicles in China by 2015 and double the number of dealerships as it seeks to gain more market share in China. The company currently has 340 dealers in China.

"The new nameplates will significantly strengthen Ford's penetration in existing segments and drive new growth in others," said Ford China CEO Joe Hinrichs.

Automakers have been hit by production halts and slowdowns because of supply chain disruptions stemming from a devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's industrial northeast on March 11. The disaster killed 25,000 people, destroyed towns, upended a nuclear reactor, and decimated scores of businesses and factories. The region also had a high concentration of auto parts suppliers that were hit.

Daimler's Japanese production was interrupted for more than a month and it is slowly restarting now, CEO Dieter Zetsche said. He said the recovery efforts are looking "promising these days."

Toyota Motor Corp. resumed car production at all of its plants in Japan on Monday for the first time since the tsunami, but said the factories will run at half capacity due to parts shortages.

GM executives said they have experienced "minimal" impact on production, and a team of more than 200 people around the world is monitoring the situation.

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AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed to this report.