BEIJING -- Great Wall Motor Co., plans to expand its sales in Europe to a third country, said Xing Wenlin, general manager of the company's international trade division.
In addition to Bulgaria and Italy, where the company now sells the Wingle pickup, Great Wall will select another European country to sell its vehicles, Xing said.
"It will probably be a North European country, for example, Sweden, which is the most demanding and difficulty market in Europe," he said.
Xing said his company's ultimate goal is entering the U.S. market but admitted that it will be a long process.
He said Great Wall, China's largest pickup and SUV maker, aims to export some 60,000 vehicles in 2010, the same number achieved in 2008.
Due to the global economic downturn, Great Wall only exported 35,000 vehicles in 2009, of which 27,000 units were pickups. "The export market started stabilizing in September 2009, but the recovery is still slow," said Xing in an interview with Automotive News China in Beijing last month.
Great Wall started exporting its pickups and SUVs in the late 1990s. Now, it has added sedans to its export product portfolio. The main destinations for its export products are the Middle East, Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia, according to Xing.
In mid-2009 Great Wall completed the certification of four of its models for the European Union; the Florid and Coolbear sedans, the Hover SUV and the Wingle pickup. It succeeded in obtaining the EU's Whole Vehicle Type Approval for them. The company plans to start assembling the four vehicles in Bulgaria for the European market in 2011.
Xing noted that it is difficult to operate in Europe because the EU has 27 countries and many different languages. "It also has many strong local brands and even the Japanese and Korean brands have failed to become mainstream products there," he said.
At this stage, Great Wall is selling its vehicles in Europe on a trial basis, he added. "The important thing for us is to learn and gain experience so that we can develop new products that will offer better value for money for (European customers)," he said.
U.S. market is the ultimate goal
Xing said Great Wall eventually aimed to sell cars in the the U.S. "That's our dream," he said. "All of us doing foreign trade in China have this dream about cracking open the U.S. market."
Xing said the attraction of North America is that it is a unified single market in terms of regulations, consumer preferences and distribution networks.
Two years ago, several domestic Chinese automakers including Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., China FAW Group Corp. and Changan Automobile Co. planned to build assembly plants in Mexico and to use the Mexican market as a springboard to enter the U.S. market. But these companies have to date all shelved these plans.
Xing said Great Wall doesn't have similar plans for Mexico. If it wants to enter the market there, it will do so as part of a strategy for the whole of North America, he added.
But he said it will be a long process for a Chinese automaker to gain access to the U.S. market. "It requires that we have the scale and strength as well as the right products and technology," he said.