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New partnership in China links Big Macs and big oil
The Associated Press
BEIJING — McDonald's opened its first drive-through in Beijing on Friday, launching a partnership with a major Chinese oil company to exploit the country's growing taste for both cars and Western fast food.
The Beijing drive-through is the first in McDonald's venture with China Petroleum and Chemical Corp., which McDonald's China CEO Jeffrey Schwartz said would open 25 to 30 more in the next 12 to 18 months. Both gas stations and drive-throughs are booming as car purchases by newly affluent drivers speed China's change from a bicycle culture to a car culture.
McDonald's and its partner, also known as Sinopec, christened the new two-story Beijing restaurant, set beside a Sinopec filling station, with a ceremony that mixed traditional lion dancers and a Chinese-speaking Ronald McDonald.
Minutes later, Beijing resident Dong Tianwu and his daughter pulled up at the drive-through window in a Chinese-made Xiali compact and bought three meals and drinks.
"It's certainly convenient," Dong said.
China's booming market is a key growth area for the hamburger chain, Schwartz said.
China's double-digit economic growth has created a burgeoning market for cars, fast food and other consumer goods. The country overtook Japan last year to become the world's second-biggest vehicle market after the U.S., with 7.2 million cars sold, a 37 percent growth.
McDonald's, based in Oak Brook, Ill., opened its first restaurant in China in 1990 and has grown to 780 outlets in 120 cities with 50,000 employees. It faces strong competition from Yum Brands, the industry leader in China with more than 2,000 KFC restaurants and 300 Pizza Huts.
McDonald's already has 15 other drive-throughs in China, in Shanghai and the southern cities of Guangdong and Shenzhen. The 20-year deal with Sinopec gives it the pick of any sites where the Chinese partner decides to open a restaurant beside one of its filling stations.
Sinopec, the country's No. 2 oil company, has more than 30,000 outlets throughout China and is adding 500 to 600 a year.
Schwartz declined to give figures for McDonald's sales growth in China but said it is "very strong."
The company said this week its sales for Asia, Africa and the Middle East rose 5.5 percent last year, compared with its 5.2 percent growth rate in the United States.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company