The importance of China

This week Beijing is hosting the Auto China 2004 show, drawing attention to the country's increasingly-important role in the automotive world. Vehicles sales in China boomed by 34% last year to 4.4m, which makes it the world's third biggest market behind the US and Japan. The Chinese government is estimated that this market will grow to 20m vehicles a year by 2020 and the major car companies are falling over one another to get a slice of the action. There is massive potential for growth, even if the Chinese economy slows down. At the moment luxury cars are selling fastest as China's rich develop a taste for the automobile. General Motors is launching its premium brand Cadillac at this year's Beijing show and Toyota is laying the groundwork for a network of Lexus dealerships. Last wekeend Ferrari opened a store in Shanghai and more and more other projects are coming to light as the car companies go into partnership with local firms, at the moment the only way they can enter the market as a domestic manufacturer. Chinese car production is still struggling to meet demand but already there are fears that China's car manufacturers will soon start exporting cars.

In the light of this boom, the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai later this year is going to be a great opportunity for the car companies involved in F1 to promote their products and create the right image for the eager Chinese consumers.

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