China, where the number of private cars has soared past the 10 million mark, will become the world’s number four vehicle maker by the end of this year, the country’s statistics bureau claimed, according to Reuters.

China should pass France to become the world’s fourth-largest maker of vehicles in 2003, behind the United States, Japan and Germany, according to a report prepared by analysts at the State Statistical Bureau and seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

At this rate, China should overtake Germany by 2005 to take third place with output of 10 million units a year by 2010 from about four million this year, the bureau said, according to Reuters.

“We predict that this year, the country’s vehicle output will surpass that of France to become the world’s fourth-largest,” Reuters cited the bureau saying in a report. “China’s car industry is becoming more international on a daily basis,” the bureau reportedly added.

Of 1.36 million vehicles sold in the first four months of 2003, at least 800,000 went to private owners, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, Reuters said.

There were a million cars in private hands in 1992 in a country of 1.3 billion people. From 2000 to the middle of 2003, this number doubled from five million to just over 10 million, Reuters added.

Last year, about 60% of the one million cars sold in China went to private owners, the statistical bureau said, according to Reuters, the first time the 50% level had been surpassed.

Analysts told the news agency that China is a long way off becoming a country of mass vehicle ownership, unlike Europe or North America where there are some 70 cars per 100 people, and now has just one privately owned car for every 120 people, according to Xinhua.

“The number of cars per family is very minimal and we’re only at the beginning of the high growth stage,” Yun Liu at Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia told Reuters while analysts in general said that sales growth could accelerate after long-awaited rules on car financing are unveiled by the central People’s Bank of China, expected soon.

“Once car makers and others are allowed to provide loans for auto sales, this could give a 25% boost to private car sales,” Capital International Holdings Shanghai auto analyst Lin Wenjun told Reuters.