General Motors Corp expects its sales in China to rebound from slower growth in the first quarter and to keep pace with full-year market growth that it has projected at 16 percent, executives said on Sunday. ( Reuters )
GM's first quarter sales in the world's second-largest auto market grew just under 7 percent, lagging overall growth of about 18 percent and growth in sales for GM's largest rival Volkswagen AG of nearly a third.
GM has blamed its first-quarter slowdown on winter storms in the quarter that disrupted shipments, particularly of the Wuling brand work vans that it sells in China.
"We still expect a very good year and to grow in line with the market," GM's president and managing director Kevin Wale told reporters on the sidelines of the Beijing Auto Show.
GM's sales in China rose nearly 19 percent in 2007 to top 1 million vehicles. Wale said GM expected to grow its sales by another 50 percent by adding sales volume of 500,000 vehicles over the next three years.
China's auto market has grown by between 20 and 30 percent over the past five years, a period of explosive growth that analysts and industry executives say puts it on track to overtake the United States as the largest market for cars and trucks.
GM has said it expects industry sales in China to exceed those in the United States before 2020.
Like other major U.S. automakers it is also banking on faster growth in emerging markets like China to soften the downturn in the U.S. market, where light vehicle sales this year are expected to drop to their lowest level since the early 1990s.
A slumping housing market, high gas prices, consumer uncertainty and signs that the economy has tipped into recession are all expected to dent U.S. auto sales.
GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said he could imagine in the future that GM would eventually sell more vehicles in China than it does in the U.S. market.
"I say this internally all the time, but the company that gets China right is going to be the dominant player for the next 25 years," Wagoner said.