Still, companies apparently believe those problems are surmountable.
For several years, Ford built commercial vans in China but had failed to open a passenger-car plant. Soon, Chang'An Ford Automobile Corp. will begin production of a vehicle based on the Fiesta, with sales to start in a few months. Ford aims for sales of 50,000 a year, although its plant fairly easily could be expanded to 150,000 with minimal additional investment, aided by such features as automatic transmissions.
The Chinese model will be the first in the world off the Fiesta platform with an automatic.
Similarly, GM has purchased a 34 percent stake in Shanghai GM Wuling Automotive Ltd. Co., a move that puts it into the minivehicle segment, where cars and trucks typically have 800cc engines. It's a crowded segment, with most makers relying on platforms and technology licensed from Suzuki Motor Co., owned 20 percent by GM. A shakeout seems imminent because several makers are losing money.
Still, the segment is strong. That segment "will be one of the top two or three growing segments for as long as we can see into the future," Murtaugh said. He pledged that Shanghai GM Wuling's offerings will meet new government regulations on emissions and safety, unlike rivals' cars and trucks.
The purchase also gives GM the widest product range of any foreign-based carmaker in China. Ignoring imports, GM affiliates or subsidiaries in China make and sell made-in-China pickups, sport-utilities, minivans, luxury sedans, compact sedans and now minivehicles.
To Ghosn, such product diversity underscores how automakers have revived their enthusiasm for China.
"China has now reached a significant point in its economic development," Ghosn said.
"Perhaps for the first time, this motor show offers much more than a glimpse of the cars the rest of the world is buying. It is now very much a place to view the cars that China will be buying."