SHANGHAI - General Motors and Chinese officials began construction of an all-new plant here that will begin producing 100,000 Buicks a year late in 1998.
Shanghai General Motors is a partnership with Shanghai Automobile Industry Corp. The $1.6 billion operation will also build about 100,000 V-6 engines a year, including some for export to the US.
'We intend to be a major player in each of the major segments' in China, said GM International President Lou Hughes.
According to another GM executive who declined to be identified, GM is also prepared to produce its new minivan family alongside the Buick at the Shanghai plant.
That possibility would require the approval of central government planners in Beijing. The minivan shares the same underpinnings as the Buick.
There are problems in China. The market has been slow, and government policy changes often.
Still, GM is fast emerging as a potential rival to Volkswagen AG. VW is China's biggest and most important foreign automaker.
GM is in talks with potential partners and government officials on other projects.
It wants to build light-duty trucks at its backward Shenyang joint venture in northeastern China.
GM also wants to build Opel cars and engines in Guangzhou, in southern China.
Delphi Automotive Systems has several joint-venture plants in China and is seeking to add more.
Ideally, Hughes said, GM's lineup in China would include: commercial trucks from an existing operation by affiliate Isuzu Motors Ltd.; a luxury sedan from Shanghai GM; a sport-utility, probably from Shenyang; and one or two Opel vehicles from Guangzhou.
GM has also proposed to build Opel four-cylinder engines in Guangzhou, to complement the 3.0-liter V-6 engines to be built at Shanghai GM.