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Automakers Flooring It to China

The latest news in the auto industry is revved-up sales for November. On Thursday, Chrysler, Ford (NYSE:F) General Motors (NYSE:GM), Nissan (PINK:NSANY) and Toyota (NYSE:TM) all reported rising sales, with Chrysler posting a whopping 45% year-over-year increase. Ford saw a 13.3% spike in combined car and truck sales during the month, while GM sales accelerated at a much slower rate of 6.9%. Nissan saw a 19% jump in its sales tachometer over November 2010’s reading, while Toyota sales rose 7%.

The robust month of increased sales signals a smoother road ahead for automakers, as the industry tries to drive its way out of the bumpy terrain it has been in ever since the Great Recession sent it careening into a sales ditch. Yet despite improving conditions, automakers have set their navigation systems east — make that the Far East — to exploit the next big growth market: China.

According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group that monitors the country’s auto industry, auto sales in China climbed 5.9% during the first 10 months of 2011. That growth is expected to surge next year, and automakers all over the globe are betting on it.

GM currently has the largest presence in China, and the company recently projected that nationwide car sales will expand by 10% in 2012. Rivals Volkswagen (PINK:VLKAY), Honda (NYSE:HMC) and Nissan also peg Chinese auto market growth around the 10% mark.

The reason for the optimistic Chinese growth projections has to do with China’s rising middle class and its growing affluent class. Middle-class Chinese are beginning to earn enough money that they can, for the first time, afford a car. The affluent class has plenty of capital for auto purchases, as they’ve proved it during the first half of the year.

Audi, the luxury side of Volkswagen Group, is the top luxury brand in China, and it sold approximately 140,000 vehicles in China and Hong Kong through the first six months of 2011. That’s a 28% surge from the same period in 2010. BMW sales flew 61% higher during the first half of the year, while Mercedes-Benz sales jumped 52%. Iconic performance car maker Porsche AG saw a 29% rise in first-half sales in China.

For the full year, Volkswagen is on pace to sell more than 2 million units in China. The company also plans to double production capacity in the region by 2015. GM’s sales in China already have surpassed 2 million units this year, and the company has its sights set on more than doubling that number in the coming years, with a target of 5 million units sold each year by 2015. Such expansion would help General Motors offset weakness in Europe.

Ford has some really ambitious plans for Chinese growth. The company has decided to bring 20 new engines and transmissions and 15 new vehicles to the country by 2015, a move aimed directly at dethroning GM as the automaker with the most sales horsepower in China.

If the Chinese economy can continue to grow at or near its current 9% GDP growth rate for the next year, you can bet automakers are going to see a lot of expanded revenue from China’s roadways — and that could mean a substantive drive higher for the shares that ride that other bumpy thoroughfare, Wall Street.

As of this writing, Jim Woods did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned stocks.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

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