* China car sales up 37 pct in 2009, in line with forecast
* To launch 7 new models in 2010
* Investing over 4 bln euros in China till 2011 (Adds executive quotes, details)
By Fang Yan and Jacqueline Wong
SHANGHAI, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG (VOWG.DE) said on Thursday it sold 36.7 percent more cars in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2009, in line with its forecast as Beijing’s policy initiatives bolstered automobile demand in the world’s largest auto market.
The top European automaker sold 1.4 million cars in China and Hong Kong in 2009, up from 1.02 million units a year earlier, it said in a statement.
Sales of Volkswagen brands rose 32.4 percent to 1.12 million units in China and Hong Kong during the period, with sales of Audi brands up 32.9 percent to 158,941 units and Skoda sales up 106.7 percent at 122,556 units.
“2009 has been an extraordinary year, presenting a lot of challenges and opportunities. We have increased our forecast several times,” Winfried Vahland, president and CEO for Volkswagen’s China operations, said in a statement.
In it lastest forecast in November, Vahland projected a more than 35 percent sales growth in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2009. [ID:nHKG261968]
Arch-rival General Motor [GM.UL] sold 1.83 million vehicles in the country last year, up 66.9 percent. The total tally, however, include 1.06 million relatively cheaper mini vans and pick-up trucks made at its venture in south China.
GM’s flagship car venture with SAIC Motor Corp (600104.SS) in Shanghai sold 727,620 sedans in China in 2009, up 63.3 percent from a year earlier.
In the statement, Volkswagen did not give a forecast for its China sales in 2010, but said it is “full of confidence” and is expecting a 10-15 percent growth of the country’s auto market for the year.
It will launch 7 new locally made models this year, it added.
China, which topped the United States as the world’s largest auto market this year, has been a major bright spot amid a global industry downturn due to Beijing’s stimulus measures, including aggressive cuts in sales tax for small cars.
Volkswagen had in late 2009 unveiled a plan to invest more than 4 billion euros ($5.77 billion) in China till 2011 to expand its production capacity and shore up its R&D.
Other foreign automakers are also expanding their footprint.
Ford Motor (F.N) had in September broke ground for its $490 million new China plant. GM set up a $293 million light commercial vehicle venture with FAW Group in August and pledged further investment in the country.
Ford, a relatively latecomer to China, sold 440,619 vehicles last year, up 44 percent from 2008. Toyota Motor (7203.T), with fewer offerings of small cars eligible for government tax incentives, sold 709,000 cars in the country, up 21 percent. ($1=.6930 Euro) (Reporting by Fang Yan and Jacqueline Wong)