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VW outpacing GM in China sales

– Volkswagen is poised to sell more vehicles in China than General Motors for the first time in nine years, regaining its place as the biggest foreign carmaker in the world’s largest auto market.

Both companies have surpassed their targets to deliver more than 3 million vehicles in China this year, with Volkswagen crossing the mark on Dec. 5 and GM a week later. The German automaker held a lead of about 70,000 vehicles through the first 11 months, according to data from the automakers.

Competition is set to intensify between the top European and American automakers, which have announced a combined $36 billion in investment for China even as more of the nation’s cities consider vehicle restrictions to cut pollution. Toyota Motor Corp., still recovering from a consumer backlash, was outsold by Ford Motor Co. in the country this year.

“China is the big battleground,” said Klaus Paur, Shanghai-based global head of automotive at market researcher Ipsos. “At the same time, there’s a risk of an over-dependence on the Chinese market. As long as this is all working well, it’s wonderful but if something gets in the way, then the exposure to risk is even bigger.”

Volkswagen said last month that it will invest $25 billion through 2018 to expand in China. In the first 11 months of this year, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker boosted sales by 17 percent to 2.96 million vehicles, with its namesake brand accounting for almost 80 percent of the deliveries. The carmaker also owns marques such as Skoda, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and Seat.

“You really have to understand that at present, we really have capacity problems, Jochem Heizmann, president and CEO of Volkswagen’s China operations, said last month. “We could sell more.”

Volkswagen’s Audi, the top-selling premium brand in China, will start selling the locally made A3 compact sedan and a new version of the A4 next year, according to John Zeng, Shanghai-based managing director of market researcher LMC Automotive. Other planned models include the new VW Bora and Skoda Octavia sedans, he said.

At GM, the new year will be marked by changes in leadership.

Mary Barra will succeed Dan Akerson as chief executive officer in January, becoming the industry’s first female CEO. In China, Matthew Tsien was appointed to oversee GM’s largest market from January, taking over from Bob Socia, who is retiring. GM will introduce four new Chevrolet models in China next year, according to John Stadwick, a vice president of sales and marketing.

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