BEIJING - One year to the day after rolling out its first Buick sedan in China, General Motors last week began producing a second vehicle at its Shanghai Buick plant, a minivan it calls the GL8 station wagon.
'Our plan always was to build a follow-up to the sedan,' said Larry Zahner, president of GM China. 'This vehicle clearly fills a gap in the China market not filled by anyone else.'
The front-drive GL8, a lightly tweaked version of GM's U.S.-market Chevrolet-Pontiac-Oldsmobile minivan family, is off the same platform as the Buick sedan and has the same 3.0-liter, 175-hp V-6 engine. Also like the sedan, it is aimed at executives of foreign joint ventures, private businesspeople and managers of state-run corporations.
It will go on sale in the middle of next year at a price expected to be in 'the higher end of the sedan range,' according to Jay Hunt, marketing manager at Shanghai GM.
The sedan is priced at the equivalent of $38,000 to $44,000.
With actual sales of the sedan through November easily topping full-year projections - 18,500, compared with a forecast of fewer than 15,000 - GM has raised its target for 2000 production. The automaker says it expects to build 30,000 sedans and 20,000 minivans in Shanghai next year, raising the plant's capacity use to 50 percent.
GM also is seeking government permission to add an unspecified small car to the mix in Shanghai.
GM's sales likely will continue to benefit from a crackdown on the smuggling of high-end autos into China. But the sedan faces stiff new competition from the newly launched Volkswagen Passat, which reportedly will sell for less than $30,000, and the Audi A6, which goes on sale in early 2000 at a still unannounced price.
Both cars will benefit from Volkswagen's near-universal brand recognition in China and from the company's huge distribution network, which blankets the country.
Another 1999 launch, the Honda Accord, enjoys a leading position in the wealthy south China province of Guangdong.