UPDATE 1-GM says 2006 China vehicle sales up 32 pct

Sun Jan 7, 2007 10:46pm EST

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SHANGHAI Jan 8 (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. (GM.N), the world's largest auto maker, sold 31.8 percent more vehicles in China in 2006 than in the previous year as it rolled out new models to attract buyers.

GM sold 876,747 vehicles in China during the period, 211,000 more than in 2005, it said in a statement released late on Sunday.

The U.S. auto maker did not give a forecast for 2007, but Kevin Wale, president and managing director of GM China, said his company would continue to launch new models and invest an average of $1 billion in China per year through 2010.

"Our aim is to stay ahead in this critical market for General Motors by offering local consumers the products and services that they want when they want them," he said in the statement.

In 2006, the maker of Buick and Chevrolet brands introduced several new models, including the Cadillac SLS luxury sedan in China. It will launch about 10 new or upgraded models this year to cash in on robust demand in the world's second-largest auto market, where car sales had grown roughly 25 percent in that year, Wale said.

GM's robust growth in China comes at a time when the Detroit giant is struggling with falling market share globally and is expected to lose the crown as the world's number-one player to Toyota Motor Corp. (7203.T) this year.

Sales at its flagship car venture with Shanghai Automotive Co. (600104.SS) rose 27 percent to 413,367 cars, while sales at its commercial vehicle tie-up in south China came to 460,155 vehicles, up 36.5 percent.

While GM pledged to continue investing in its China operations, other foreign auto giants such as Ford Motor Co. (F.N), PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) and Hyundai Motor Co. (005380.KS) are also ramping up capacity to keep up with demand.

PSA Peugeot and Hyundai are both building a second plant, while Ford, along with its partners in China, is expanding a facility in the southwest city of Chongqing and adding a new plant in Nanjing, some three hours' drive from Shanghai.

GM's arch-rival in China, Volkswagen AG (VOWG.DE) -- which reported a 28.7 percent rise in local sales to 524,558 units in the first three quarters -- has yet to release its full-year figures.

Ford and PSA Peugeot's China ventures recorded a 112.7 percent and 43 percent jump in sales last year, respectively, from a much lower comparative base.

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