Carmakers rev up for Beijing auto show

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The fastest-ever Ferrari and a Chinese-made electric car will be unveiled at a glitzy show in Beijing on Sunday as automakers line up to woo customers in the world's biggest market.

Nearly 1,000 cars go on display at the Beijing Auto Show, with 89 models making their global debut as manufacturers seek a bigger piece of a market that raced past the United States last year to take pole position.

The 200,000-square-metre exhibition area - equivalent to nearly 40 football pitches - will also feature 65 concept cars, 95 alternative-energy vehicles and a fleet of luxury models targeting increasingly wealthy Chinese consumers.

"They want people to look at their vehicles and be impressed," said John Bonnell, an analyst at consulting firm JD Power Asia-Pacific in Bangkok.

"There is lots of face gained from buying and driving around in a top-of-the-line, world-class vehicle."

Auto sales in booming China hit 13.64 million in 2009, overtaking the United States as increasingly well-off Chinese consumers continued to snap up cars, helped by government incentives such as lower taxes.

The market has been a saviour for foreign automakers as sales in developed countries slumped during the financial crisis and remain sluggish.

"Given the gloom that has been affecting many parts of the auto world in recent times, Beijing and Shanghai shows are increasingly figuring in many automakers' timetables," said Ian Fletcher, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.

"The Chinese market was the largest globally in 2009 and the levels of growth are expected to continue over the next few years."

In the luxury segment, Italian sports car maker Ferrari will launch its fastest-ever road car, the 599 GTO, which has a top speed of 335 kilometres (208 miles) per hour.

Ferrari, which sold more than 200 cars in China last year, said the launch would mark its first "world premiere" in the Asia-Pacific region and underlined the importance of the Chinese market to its brand.

US auto giant General Motors, which saw its first-quarter sales in China soar 71 percent to 623,546 units from a year earlier, will unveil three models including an electric car, a multi-purpose vehicle and a compact car.

"Global manufacturers want to leave the impression that they are very serious about the Chinese automotive market and place the highest priority on customers there," Bonnell said.

But competition from Chinese automakers at the show will be fierce as domestic manufacturers stake their claim in the fast-growing market and seek to break out as global names, analysts said.

Zhejiang Geely Holding, which last month bought Swedish carmaker Volvo from US auto giant Ford, will launch 11 models in what reportedly will be the biggest domestic display at the show.

SAIC Motor Corp, China's largest automaker in terms of sales, will unveil the E1 electric car, which boasts a 30-minute recharge time.

For Chinese manufacturers, the auto show offers the chance to "make sure the world knows their cars are coming", said Raymond Tsang, a Shanghai-based partner at consulting firm Bain & Company.

"China is the largest auto market in the world now and everyone wants to tell everybody that this is my turf," he said.

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