Auto executives at the Beijing Motor Show were abuzz with tales of Chinese bureaucrats' newfound speed in approving projects - by consensus, an outgrowth of China's commitment to join the World Trade Organization. Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s joint venture in Guangzhou, for instance, received quick approval for plans to boost production of Accord sedans. 'They said, 'If this is what you want to do, OK, do it,'' marveled Koji Kadowaki, president of the joint-venture company that produces 30,000 Accords a year.
Toyota Motor Corp. had worked for nearly five years to get permission to build a Toyota model at a China venture originally set up by its affiliate, Daihatsu Motor Co. Ltd. When the company announced a week before the Beijing show that it had received permission to build 30,000 cars a year in China, Toyota Executive Vice President Kosuke Yamamoto said, 'We don't know why, but the approval process really went quickly in the last month.'
In the past, foreign carmakers had to get government approval not only for each new automotive venture, but for each new body style or model. Companies given approval enjoyed a quasi-monopoly, said Michael Dunne, president of Automotive Resources Asia Ltd., a market research firm in Bankok. Less governmental control of the industry would greatly increase consumer choices. And it may reduce the control of automakers - Wolkswagen is a prominent example - who have had certain market segments largely to themselves. One rule that probably won't change: Majority foreign ownership of automotive ventures still is forbidden.