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Car Manufacturing in China

Explore How the Factory of the World Has Become the Second Largest Auto Producer


In a country where bicycles once outnumbered cars as the preferred mode of transportation, consumers are clamoring to get behind the wheel. The factory of the world has become the second largest auto producer in the world. Here’s how.

When Did China Start Making Cars?

China’s automotive industry began in 1931 during the Republican era (1911-1949).

China’s first modern automobile factory, First Automobile Works, did not open until 1953, after the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People’s Republic. The factory was open in Changchun with Soviet assistance. The plant produced military and commercial trucks based on Soviet models until 1958. That year, the factory began producing the first domestically-produced Chinese car, Hong-qi (red flag), a luxury sedan for the Communist Party elite.

From the late 1950s to 1970s, the auto industry stalled for two reasons: the Sino-Soviet split, which cut off China’s access to Russian technology, and Chairman Mao’s radical socialist policies which brought all manufacturing under state control.

Deng-Xiaoping’s policy of reform and openness reinvigorated the Chinese car industry during the 1980s. Chinese auto-makers were allowed to form joint ventures with foreign car companies to produce cars for the domestic market.

In the 1990s, China’s auto industry grew. China’s automobile production exceeded 1 million vehicles for the first time in 1992.

China’s automotive production grew from 2 million cars in 2000 to over 13 million cars in 2009. Some growth has been due in part to China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001. China’s automobile production increased an average of 21% annually between 2002 and 2007. China surpassed the US in 2008 to become the world’s second largest automobile producer behind Japan.

Who Made the First Cars in China?

The industry’s pioneers were Zhang Xueliang (张学良), a general who founded a munitions arsenal to produce a truck called the Sheng Ming, and inventor Tang Zhongming (湯仲明), who, with funding from General Yang Hucheng (杨虎城), produced an internal-combustion automobile engine powered by charcoal.

Fake Designer Cars

Just like fake Rolex watches and counterfeit Gucci purses, China’s auto manufacturers like BYD Auto (比亚迪汽车), Chery (奇瑞汽车), Great Wall Motor (长城汽车) and Shuanghuan (双环汽车) have been accused of copying Western passenger vehicle designs.

Dongfeng Motor Corporation (东风集团股份) has also been accused of making copycat Humvees (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles).

How Big Is Auto Manufacturing in China?

Over 13 million cars were made in China in 2009. Auto sales surpassed the US in 2009 making China the largest auto sales market in the world. Three Chinese brands, BYD, Chery and Geely (吉利汽车), were among the top 10 car brands sold in 2009.

Future Technology and China’s Auto Manufacturing

China’s government has instituted the Chinese Automotive Industry Plan, which aims to produce 500,000 cars that utilize alternative sources like hybrid and electric cars. The plan’s goal is to have these cars account for 5% of China’s passenger vehicle auto sales.
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