[Excerpt] The automobile industry, a key sector in China’s industrialization and modernization efforts, has been developing rapidly since the 1990s. In recent years, China has become the world’s fastest growing automotive producer. Annual vehicle output has increased from less than 2 million vehicles in the late 1990s to 9.5 million in 2008. In terms of production volume in 2008, China has surpassed Korea, France, Germany, and the United States, trailing only Japan. A disproportionate share of China’s output was heavy vehicles in the 1990s. However, since 2000 China’s growth has been led by an increase in passenger cars, which now account for more than 65% of its vehicle production.
China’s automobile industry has continued to expand despite the global economic downturn. From January to October 2009, more than 10 million vehicles were sold in China. If such growth continues, China is on its way to becoming world’s largest auto market.
Unlike Korea or Japan, China’s automotive industry has developed extensively through foreign direct investment. This investment has come in the form of alliances and joint ventures between international automobile manufacturers and Chinese partners. The international automobile manufacturers are unlikely to promote Chinese exports that compete with their own products in other markets. As a consequence, the Chinese companies that have expressed a strong interest in exporting cars have not had strong ties to foreign car producers and that, consequently, may struggle to meet safety and emission standards in industrialized countries. However, if independent producers, such as Geely, can achieve much higher standards, they could prove to be a strong international competitor. Ford’s proposed sale of Volvo to Geely may help the Chinese company improve its products.
China exports and imports few motor vehicles. Exports are growing much more rapidly than imports and are mostly light trucks and passenger cars shipped to developing country markets. By contrast, Chinese auto parts exports are already making inroads into the United States and other developed markets. While U.S. motor vehicle trade with China was insignificant in 2008, the United States imported more than $5.5 billion in parts from China, while it exported about one- eighth of that amount. Many of these imports are aimed at the aftermarket, as most of what China now exports to the U.S. market are standard products such as brake parts, electrical and electronic parts, and seating and interior trim. But with high rates of investment and strong growth in China by the leading U.S. manufacturers of both cars and parts, major motor vehicle companies are likely to increase sourcing from China.
There have been a significant number of trade disputes with China ranging from implementation of obligations that were made when China joined the WTO, China’s exchange rate policy, lax trade law enforcement, and alleged subsidies to industrial producers. With a bilateral U.S. trade deficit that rose to more than $268 billion in 2008, representatives of the Obama administration, as well as many Members of Congress, would like to achieve more balance in U.S.-China trade relations.