(Corrects Volvo to Swedish from Swiss in 6th para and Saab deal date in 8th para)
BEIJING, April 3 (Reuters) - Beijing Automotive Group Co, Daimler AG’s Chinese partner, said on Thursday it wants to buy a “mid to high-end brand” in Europe or the United States to boost its global presence and it already has candidates in mind.
The state-owned automaker said last year it was seeking to acquire an European brand, but now the search has extended to the United States, according to Dong Haiyang, who heads Beijing Auto’s international expansion.
It will take time for Beijing Auto to break into global markets with its BAIC nameplate, which is little known overseas, so buying a foreign brand is a shortcut, Dong, president of BAIC International Development Co, told a media briefing in Beijing.
“We have candidates,” he said.
Chinese automakers are stepping up their global expansion plans as the domestic market becomes increasingly crowded while the poor health of some European and U.S. rivals offers good buying opportunities.
Last week, Dongfeng Motor Group signed an agreement to buy a 14 percent stake in struggling French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen, while Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Ltd, owner of the Swedish brand Volvo, in March acquired British electric-vehicle startup Emerald Automotive.
Beijing Auto has been stepping up expansion both home and abroad to better compete with bigger domestic rivals including Dongfeng, SAIC Motor Corp and FAW Group.
The company, which acquired some technologies of General Motor Co’s Saab unit in 2009, in June set up an international unit to accelerate international expansion.
In China, Beijing Auto bought two small rivals last year and last week signed an agreement with Daimler to jointly invest 4 billion euros ($5.51 billion) into their China joint venture to more than double car production by 2015.
$1 = 0.7263 euros Reporting by Nori Shirouzu and Samuel Shen; Editing by Matt Driskill