Can GM Be King Of The Road In China?

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Detroit production may be in the doldrums, but GM is riding high on the streets of China’s major cities. According to Russell Flannery in Forbes.com:

“Auto sales for GM and its joint venture partners in China climbed by 66.9% last year to a record 1.8 million vehicles, GM announced. Led by sales of its Buick, Chevrolet and Wuling models, the company boasted a 13.4% share of China’s auto market, up by 1.3 percentage points from last year and also a record for the company.”

China’s hunger for driving on the open road is a boon for international car manufacturers as worldwide sales continue to suffer from the effects of the global financial crisis. But this presents a marketing challenge for GM and other brands that hope to cash in on China’s car boom.[more]

As Chinese consumers become more sophisticated in regard to their preferences, figuring out what brand image they desire and what product to offer them will become paramount. As GM vice chairman Bob Lutz told National Public Radio:

“We all have to get used to the fact that the future of the global automobile business — I mean the center of gravity — is no longer going to be Europe or the United States; it’s going to be China. And I think that to a certain extent China is helping drive our designs today.”

It will be interesting to observe how GM and other major international automakers adjust to the Chinese market. Do Chinese drivers prefer flashy, fuel-gobbling SUVs, or lightweight, smaller cars? What colors and styles suit their tastes? What do drivers want to feel when they are behind the wheel?

Figuring out the Chinese market is not an easy task at the best of times. Many companies, both large and small, have tried and failed. GM already has a head start due to the country’s lack of quality domestic automakers, but domestic brands won’t be inferior forever.

Only time will tell if GM succeeds in cracking the market that has broken so many others.

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