SOFIA -- Chinese automaker Great Wall Motor Co. has opened its first European factory as part of its strategy to lift sales in the region.
The plant in Bulgaria will assemble 50,000 units of Great Wall's Hover SUV, Steed pick-up and Voleex city car models and employ 2,000 people when at full capacity in 2013.
The factory is in Lovech, 150km northeast of Sofia.
The plant will build cars initially for the Bulgarian market and later for other European countries, Roger Gao, a manager at Great Wall's international division, told Automotive News Europe in November.
At Tuesday's opening of the factory, Litex Motors Executive Director Ilia Terziev said he is confident that the cars built in Lovech will meet the expectations of European consumers.
Great Wall currently exports vehicles to Italy and Bulgaria. The company has said it will launch sales of the Steed in the UK next month.
Investment in the Lovech plant by Litex Motors, a joint venture in which Great Wall holds a minority stake, is targeted to reach 100 million euros.
Growth in China's once-sizzling auto market fell back last year and European sales are expected to contract this year as austerity and economic uncertainty bite into consumer spending.
But China's top manufacturer of sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks will aim to sell 600,000 vehicles in 2012, up 23 percent, with an export target of 100,000 vehicles.
Great Wall exported 83,000 units from China last year to 120 countries and regions, including Europe.