Volkswagen Sees Increased Sales in China

by : Anthony Fontanelle

German Volkswagen Group expects to sell more than 800,000 vehicles in China this year, encouraged by its strong sales in the first half.

The projection, made by Volkswagen's China chief Winfried Vahland, is up from 711,298 units it moved in the world's fastest-growing major auto market in 2006. Its January-to-June sales on the mainland and Hong Kong rose 24.6 percent year-on-year to record 431,369 units, including 379,705 Volkswagen-brand cars, 49,267 Audi vehicles and Skoda 2,274 units.

The German company's record sales figure is likely to help it remain the top seller in China's passenger car segment though its rivals, such as the General Motors Corp. and the Toyota Motor Corp., have yet to disclose their first-half results in the territory. "This (record sales) indicates that our 'Olympic Program' has been yielding good results in China," Vahland said in a recent interview in Beijing.

Volkswagen, the sole automotive partner of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, flagged off the program in 2005 to launch 12 to 14 new models by 2009 in China. The automaker also intends to cut costs by 40 percent by 2008 and to improve sales and service networks.

Vahland predicted that China's entire passenger car market would reach five million units this year, up from the company's previous forecast of 4.6 million units. In 2006, 4.2 million passenger cars were sold in the country. "However, we will not slacken our efforts to cut costs and improve customer satisfaction, although we performed well in the first half," he said. He warned that interest rate rises and soaring oil prices in China are likely to have a negative impact on the car market.

The alerts the automaker to a greener pasture. The German automaker now runs a joint venture with First Automotive Works Corp in the northeastern city of Changchun. The venture is responsible for the production of Bora, Caddy, Jetta, Golf and Sagitar, as well as the Audi A6 and A4. Additionally, the venture will launch a 1.8-liter turbo Magotan sedan next week.

The Mangotan also features Fuel Stratified Injection in nearly every petrol version. It ranges from 1.6 to 3.2 L, but the multivalve 2.0 L TDI is the most sought out version in Europe. In the United States, it features a 200 horsepower 2.0 L turbocharged I4 as the base engine, or a 280 horsepower 3.6 L VR6 engine as the upgrade and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.

An Tiecheng, the venture's general manager, said that it plans to roll out at least two new models under the Volkswagen and Audi marques annually in the next five years to lure increasingly sophisticated auto purchasers.

The VW Mangotan, also called the Passat, follows the latest design philosophy first introduced on the VW Phaeton luxury car. The new styling is a dramatic departure from the styling of the B5.5 Passat. Although the new design using improved VW parts is somewhat controversial, sales have improved over the old model.

For the full year, VW, which operates car manufacturing ventures with leading Chinese auto maker SAIC Motor Corp. and FAW Group, aims to increase its sales by roughly one-fifth and maintain its 17 percent share of the world's second-largest auto market, a senior company executive said.

The venture will have a "minimum" profit growth of 25 percent this year from 2006, said Joachim Wedler, its vice-president in charge of finance. But Wedler did not reveal how much the firm, in which FAW holds a 60 percent stake and Volkswagen 40 percent, will earn this year.

The Wolfsburg-based company is one of the world's biggest producers of passenger cars and Europe's largest automaker.