GM sees booming China as a road to profitability

SHANGHAI — On summer holidays, Chinese are increasingly jumping into their cars and engaging in what was once considered a quintessential American pastime — the road trip. And that's great news for U.S. automaker General Motors, which has ridden the booming Chinese auto market to recover from bankruptcy and now sees mostly a long open highway to bigger profits ahead.

With a mix of high-end Buicks, minivans and low-end Chevrolets, GM has emerged as one of the top sellers of passenger cars in the world's largest automobile market, surpassing Toyota this year and second only to Volkswagen.

In what was seen as a turning point for the company, GM last year sold more cars in China than in the United States, and the gap is expected to widen as an increasing number of Chinese grow rich enough to purchase their first car.

By contrast, Ford and Chrysler are relatively late coming to the China market, and their brands don't even fall in the top 10 for sales.

And despite the Chinese government's efforts to slow the economic growth rate to calm inflation, and even though some cities, like Beijing, are putting new restrictions on private car registrations to ease congestion, GM's top official here isn't worried about a slowdown in sales anytime soon.

"Simple economics say it will" continue, said Kevin E. Wale, president and managing director of GM China Group. China's economy "is growing between 8 and 10 percent," he said in an interview at the company's sprawling campus in Shanghai's industrial zone. "We don't see that trend here changing in the next 10 years or so."