Chinese car makers made record profits last year as rising incomes boosted buyer interest in the world’s fastest-growing car market, underscoring the lure for foreign manufacturers, The Detroit News said.

The newspaper, citing State Development Planning Commission figures, said earnings rose almost two-thirds to 43.1 billion yuan ($US5.2 billion) as sales jumped 31% and will probably rise by a quarter in 2003 from last year’s 647 billion yuan.

“Sales surged because of pent-up demand for vehicles at Chinese households,” Automotive Resources Asia analyst Yale Zhang told the Detroit News. “People hoping to buy imported cars switched to buying local models when they realised tariffs weren’t dropping as expected and that cars took too long to import.”

The report said that Ford will start making Fiesta sedans this week at a venture with Changan Automobile Co. in the central Chinese city of Chongqing while Mazda is about to start making its 2.3-litre 6 cars in Changchun, in northeastern China, the latest in a list of western makers’ joint ventures.

Total Chinese car sales will probably rise 24% this year to 1.45 million units, the Detroit News said, citing the State Information Centre, a Chinese government think tank.

Vehicle production rose 38% to 3.3 million units, the report added.