Chinese car companies are looking to take on the Japanese in east African markets, a heartland for used vehicle sales over the past few years.

Many markets have been saturated with second hand Japanese cars but according to China Car Times, Chery Automobile is to build an assembly plant in Kenya, joining truck manufacturer Beiqi Foton Motors in a move to tap east African demand and further strengthen Chinese links with the continent.

Justus Nguu, director of Stantech Motors, Chery’s Kenya franchise holder, said the Chinese company is talking to its own government in a bid to raise some US$50m to invest in Kenya through an assembly plant.

Chery aims to set up its plant next year after testing the market by venturing into Kenya in 2010 through the Stantech franchise. It sold just 120 cars last year but aims to produce 1,000 units in 2013 at a plant which will serve Kenya, east Africa’s biggest economy, and other countries in the region.

China’s largest indigenous car maker also aims to increase auto exports by over 30% this year to 120,000 vehicles, targeting developing nations in southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa. It current has 16 assembly plants overseas.

Currently Toyota controls about 65% of the market in Kenya, mainly through the second-hand segment. The truck business is dominated by established players CMC Holdings and the Kenyan unit of General Motors .

Beiqi Foton Motors, a unit of Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings, plans to begin construction of its assembly plant in Kenya this year. It wants to double sales in Africa to 20,000 units by 2013 from last year by ramping up sales to economies that require heavy commercial vehicles for use in building infrastructure projects.

Calvin Guo, managing director of the Kenyan subsidiary of Beiqi Foton Motors, told China Car Times: “When you look at the international markets, we are still young. Africa is a good market for us. Kenya has a very strategic position and a good socio-economic base for us to open an assembly plant.”