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* To double sales of own-brand cars in 2010 to 180,000 units
* To start making MG 6 at British plant at end of 2010
* Expects Beijing to continue supporting its auto market
* Sees big increase in its overall vehicles sales in 2009 (Adds further quotes from president, details, background)
By Fang Yan and Alison Leung
GUANGZHOU, Nov 23 (Reuters) - SAIC Motor Corp 600104.SS aims to double the sales of its own-brand cars to 180,000 in 2010, its president said on Monday, as the top Chinese automaker seeks to tap the lucrative mid- to higher-end market currently dominated by foreign rivals.
SAIC also plans to begin manufacturing its self-developed MG 6 saloon car, based on acquired technology, in its UK plant at the end of next year, Chen Hong told reporters one day ahead of the week-long Guangzhou autoshow, scheduled to open to the public on Monday.
As wealth grows in what has now become the world’s biggest auto market, many Chinese carmakers are looking to boost their profile to cater to a generally patriotic population who, if given the choice, would opt for quality local products.
“Our own-brand car sales is estimated at 90,000 units this year, way over the 2008 target of 50,000 units. We aim to double it in 2010,” Chen said.
In March 2007 SAIC, which operates manufacturing ventures with General Motors [GM.UL] and Volkswagen VOWG.DE, launched its first self-developed car, the Roewe 750, followed sebsequently by the Roewe 550, popular among the young business elite.
From now to 2010 SAIC will roll out more own-brand cars, including the MG 6, which was unveiled to the press on Sunday. Sales may rise to 500,000 units in the foreseeable future despite the challenge of locally made foreign brands.
“We are trailing a difficult path and there is still a lot of hard work to do. We would never dare to say that we have achieved success,” Chen said.
SAIC currently has about 240 dealers in first- and second-tier cities in China and intends to step up its presence in smaller cities, executives said.
It became the owner of MG Rover’s 10,000-unit Longbridge plant in Birmingham, central England after a merger with its much smaller peer Nanjing Automobile Group in late 2007.
The facility will serve as a platform for tapping the European market, company executives have said.
“We want to make the MG 6 in the UK plant at the end of next year”, Chen said without providing a sales target.
He also confirmed media reports about SAIC’s interest in taking over British light commercial vehicle maker LDV.
“The reports are true. We are teaming up with a British partner for the deal,” Chen said, adding LDV would continue to assemble vehicles in Britain using components made in China.
The Chinese car market has been a major bright spot amid a global industry downturn thanks to Beijing’s policy incentives, including cuts in its sales tax for small cars, which have bolstered demand.
SAIC, a major beneficiary of the incentives, expects to sell over 2.65 million vehicles this year, up sharply from 1.83 million in 2008, Chen said.
He expects the government to continue to support its auto industry, a major growth engine for the country’s economy.
“In the past year car sales in third- and fourth-tier cities have significantly outpaced the growth in first- and second-tier cities, while in big cities a car is no longer a luxury item,” said Chen.
“I expect the auto market to continue to grow at a fairly rapid level. We are full of confidence for 2010.” (Writing by Don Durfee and Fang Yan; Editing by Greg Mahlich) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com; +86 21 6104 1793)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org))