Chinese dragons revving up to conquer US

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Dragons are taking off and cheetahs are leaping forward in the new millennium, China's state-controlled car maker Changfeng declared yesterday, setting out its stall for the launch of its products in the US next year.

To the strains of traditional Oriental music, the company's chairman, Li Jianxin, became the first Chinese car industry boss to unveil a new model inside the Detroit motor show. Mr Li said his company, which began producing cars only 10 years ago, was learning and innovating fast and hoped its SUVs would have mass-market appeal in North America. He also revealed the company's ambitious plans to increase production capacity to 300,000 vehicles, more than double that previously planned, and said its assets had increased by about one-third in 2006 alone.

Changfeng is exhibiting four models at the show, in the hope of attracting interest from potential partners as it searches for a way to distribute its vehicles. The highlight of its presentations yesterday was the powerful Liebao CS6, which was designed for Changfeng by an Italian company.

Mitsubishi of Japan owns 16 per cent of Changfeng, while the Chinese government controls 50.4 per cent.