China’s Geely Automobile Holdings reportedly said it plans to step up car exports this year after testing overseas markets in late 2003, with an eye to selling 30% of its output abroad by 2010.

Reuters noted that analysts have said car makers in China plan billions of dollars worth of new capacity over the next few years, prompting fears of a glut and leading some to look to exports as a growth outlet – just a tiny fraction of China’s car output is now exported.

Executives told the news agency that Geely, based in the eastern province of Zhejiang, plans to export its home-grown sedans this year to South America and North Africa, and is also looking to the US market.

Sport utility vehicle maker Great Wall Automobile Holdings, which exports vehicles to the Middle East and South America, also told Reuters on Wednesday it wants to export to the United States, but provided no other details.

“The export market is important to us,” Lawrence Ang, executive director of Hong Kong-listed Geely, told Reuters. “If we can sell our brand overseas, it will also help domestic sales and give us economies of scale.”

Alex Fan, head of China research at Daiwa Institute of Research, reportedly said Chinese car exports would be targeted mainly at lower-income markets for the foreseeable future – he added it would take longer for China to develop export markets for cars than it did for smaller-ticket white goods, such as refrigerators.

“There is still a technology gap between domestic and international car makers,” Fan told Reuters.

Ang told the news agency that Geely, which makes some of the cheapest cars in China, plans to export 5,000 vehicles to the Middle East, South America and North Africa this year after shipping 1,000 cars to Syria in the fourth quarter of 2003 at $US4,000-$6,000 each.

Last week, Geely exported 320 cars to Syria, 200 of which were priced at $10,000 each, the report noted.

Geely is looking for a US partner to import its cars, Xiong Jingguo, Geely’s project manager for its export division, reportedly said.

“Yes, we have this plan,” Xiong told Reuters. “The exact number and timeframe has yet to be decided.”

Geely has yet to meet US emissions standards, he reportedly added.

Reuters noted that few cars are exported from China, with manufacturers saying they are busy meeting booming domestic demand. Exports are also limited by the cost of making cars in China. Foreign manufacturers reportedly say it costs them roughly 20% more to make a car in the mainland, as many parts must be imported.

Top car maker General Motors exports a small number of Chinese-made GL8 executive wagons to the Philippines, but says it has no plans to turn China into an export base, Reuters added.

Volkswagen has said it wants to increase exports from China to nearby countries, but off a low base, the report said.

Analysts told Reuters that the multinationals, which are investing some $13 billion to produce some six million cars annually in China by the end of the decade, may one day turn the country into an export base to offset slowing domestic sales.

Car sales in China almost doubled to around two million units last year, but are expected to only grow 10 to 20% this year, prompting fears of a price war that would sap profit margins, the news agency noted.

The report said Geely aims to make 200,000 cars this year, rising to 1.2 million in 2010.

“For us, all markets around the world are our targets to achieve high growth,” Geely chairman He Xuechu told Reuters.

The report said Geely has two car ventures that make low-priced sedans under the brands Maple, Merrie and Uliou, and the Beauty Leopard sports car. It also makes the Haoqing minicar, the cheapest on the Chinese market at just 32,000 yuan.