roewe750.jpgShanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), China's leading carmaker, plans to export its home-grown Roewe brand.

Last month it unveiled its first own-brand car, which uses the Rover 75 platform of failed UK carmaker MG Rover. Now it plans to go further and use the Roewe marque to drive SAIC's international expansion.

Nevertheless, the company's executive vice president Philip Murtaugh, who is in charge of overseas operations, told XFN-Asia that the car would be exported only after it had fully achieved success in China.

By 2010, SAIC aims to generate $5bn from exports and overseas operations. That figure includes revenue from South Korea's Ssangyong, in which SAIC bought a controlling stake in 2004.

Because of their low price, Ssangyong cars have made inroads into the Chinese and European car markets but there are no plans to sell them in the US.

Until now, Roewe, which sounds suspiciously like Rover, had been seen as a marque aimed squarely at Chinese car buyers, so the news that SAIC plans to export Roewe cars is a wake-up call for volume carmakers in the west.

Most experts argue that that it will be many years before Chinese-made vehicles become a common site on western roads because of their poor reputation in areas like design, safety and environmental credentials. See this EngagingChina story for more.

Nevertheless, SAIC is trying to shake off the cheap-and-cheerful “Made in China” image. The Roewe 750E, which was officially unveiled last month, is aimed at mid- to high-end segment of the market and, contrary to what critics originally thought, it is not simply a re-badged Rover 75.

The sedan comes with 1.8-litre turbo or 2.5-litre engines and is priced at 230,000 yuan and 320,000 yuan respectively. The Roewe 750E, known in China as the Rong Wei 750E, looks larger than the UK car from which it is derived and features an unusually high level of equipment.

For example, it is the first Chinese car to use the advanced DualTronic transmission technology from US parts maker BorgWarner.

Next year, SAIC will unveil a smaller mid-class sedan based on a new platform that it has developed itself. In the next five years, it plans to have a full range of own-brand cars covering all segments and comprising more than 30 models. More on SAIC's own-brand strategy here.

Elsewhere on the automotive front:

  • The world's leading carmakers as well as local manufacturers are vying for the attention of Chinese consumers at the Beijing Auto Show, which opens this week. Its not hard to see why. With sales up nearly 30% this year, China is on track to overtake Japan to become the world's second largest vehicle market after the US, according to the Detroit News. Japanese cars now outsell American brands in China although most Japanese automakers ventured later into the market. VW remains the market leader.

  • TRW Automotive Holdings, the US car parts maker, plans to cut 128 jobs at a brake component plant in Pontypool, Wales. It joins a growing list of component suppliers that are cutting jobs and plants in Europe and North America and moving production to China. Ford, for example, expects to source $2.6bn of parts in China this year, a rise of 73% on the previous year.

  • Rolls Royce is to to double its shift working and take on 200 new employees as demand from China for its £200,000 Phantom cars increases, reports The Times. China has become Rolls-Royce's third-biggest market after the US and the UK, thanks to China's new entrepreneurs.

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