GM to add over 20 new, upgraded models in China: CEO

BEIJING Tue Feb 15, 2011 1:36am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - General Motors Co will add over 20 new and upgraded models in China, its CEO said Tuesday, as the U.S. automaker looks to use its leading position in the world's biggest car market to reclaim the No.1 carmaker spot from Toyota Motor Corp.

"China is clearly a crown jewel in the GM universe," said GM Chief Executive Daniel Akerson, speaking in Beijing. "China is a unique market sitting in what I think is the highest growth area in the world for the next 10, 20, 30 years."

GM, which completed its IPO last year, is the largest overseas automaker in China, where it operates auto manufacturing ventures with state auto groups SAIC Motor and FAW Group. It lost the top global automaker spot to Toyota in 2007.

Global industry giants, from Bayerische Motoren Werke AG to Volkswagen, have in the past two years racked up eye-popping sales in China, where growing national wealth has pushed auto sales to record highs.

But the once-booming market is settling into a more rational growth pattern of 10-15 percent this year after the government scrapped most of its auto incentives at the end of 2010.

The Beijing city government's recent move to impose quotas on new car registrations and possible similar moves by other big cities to tackle traffic gridlock will also apply the brakes on sales.

Going forward, GM will need to adjust its product lineup in China to compete, said analysts.

"GM is pretty well positioned in China in terms of product portfolio and strong local partnerships, especially with SAIC," said John Zeng, an analyst with J.D. Power Asia Pacific in Shanghai.

"But what GM may need to do is to produce sport-utility vehicles locally, as it's the fastest-growing passenger car segment in China."

Akerson didn't specify what models GM would add in China.

In the United States GM posted a market-leading sales gain of 22 percent in January on what it called "targeted" sales incentives - offering few incentives on hot-selling models such as the Equinox and Cruze and higher ones on its Silverado pickup to match competitors.

Even though January sales were solid, analysts cautioned that higher oil prices could crimp demand or send consumers scrambling toward the smaller vehicles that remain less profitable for automakers, especially the Detroit Three.

Akerson was named CEO of GM in August, just before its landmark initial public offering, after former CEO Ed Whitacre surprised the board by stepping down.

Ford Motor, GM and other automakers have said U.S. auto sales for 2011 could top the 13 million-vehicle level. Analysts said that estimate could prove conservative if the momentum of recent months continues.

(Editing by Ken Wills, Don Durfee and Jonathan Hopfner)

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