BEIJING — On display at next week's Beijing auto show: global automakers' hopes that booming China will drive sales this year as demand elsewhere slumps.
General Motors Corp. plans to show 42 models at Auto China 2008. Volkswagen AG is debuting two cars designed with domestic partners for the China market. More than 100 others ranging from luxury automakers Daimler AG and Bentley to ambitious Chinese upstarts are showing off compacts, sedans and SUVs.
"The interest is unprecedented for automakers. It's become one of the industry's main events," said Tim Dunne, director of Asia-Pacific market intelligence for J.D. Power and Associates.
The reason is simple: Sales in China — already the world's No. 2 vehicle market after the United States — are forecast to rise by 15 percent this year, in contrast to flat or falling sales in the United States, Europe and Japan.
"Both for volume car makers and luxury car makers, they all are looking at China as their main growth engine," said John Zeng, China auto industry analyst for the consulting firm Global Insight.
Chinese automakers, little known abroad, hope to use the show, which opens to the press on Sunday and to the public on Thursday, to build global brands even as they face growing competition at home from bigger, richer foreign rivals.
China's Chery Automobile Co. says it will display 26 of its own vehicles in Beijing, ranging from subcompacts to an SUV. Chery has a deal with Chrysler LLC to produce a low-cost car for the U.S. market, but the release has been pushed back as the partners reportedly work on improving the vehicle's quality.
Another Chinese competitor, Geely Group Ltd., says it will show 23 models and a concept, or display, car.
China overtook Japan as the world's second-biggest vehicle market in 2006.
Last year, Chinese drivers bought 5.5-million cars, minivans and SUVs and 3-million commercial vehicles. That was up from a total of just 1.6-million vehicles sold in 1997. J.D. Power says sales should grow by 1-million vehicles annually through 2015.
Demand is driven by economic growth that has topped 10 percent for the past five years and reached 10.6 percent for the first three months of this year.
"Other developing markets might have fast growth, but not the volume and consistency of China's growth," Dunne said. "The biggest growth potential is in China."