VW.gif” vspace=1>China’s most popular automobile seller, the Shanghai Volkswagen group, plans to sell 240,000 cars this year.

The joint venture sold 220,000 cars last year, increasing total sales of the VW brand in China to over 1.66 million.

While the Santana accounted for the majority of sales, the third-generation Passat, launched last year to supplement the Santana and Santana 2000, also reported satisfactory sales of 27,000 despite its relative higher cost of 245,000 yuan ($US29,600) for a standard model and 289,000 yuan ($US35,000) for a luxury model.

Competition in China’s auto market has become increasingly intense as the world’s largest vehicle producers like Toyota and Ford are swarming in to take a share of the market, while experts predict that the demand for cars this year will remain almost unchanged at some 650,000.

To safeguard its lead in the industry, Shanghai Volkswagen has vowed to improve its network of service and maintenance workshops around the country.

Although it has depended on old models no longer produced in Germany for the bulk of sales, Shanghai Volkswagen is now aligning its range with VW Europe. In August it will launch a new model at almost the same time as its German headquarters.