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Sunday, April 20, 2008 - Page updated at 07:02 AM

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General Motors plans first hybrid car sales in China

General Motors Corp. will sell its first gas-electric hybrid cars in China in July, introducing a model created in part by GM's Shanghai design center, the company said Saturday.

The Buick LaCrosse will be the second hybrid to enter the Chinese automobile market following Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius in early 2006.

The LaCrosse is due to be unveiled Sunday at the Beijing auto show, GM managers said. They said it would be priced under 300,000 yuan ($43,000; 27,000 euros) - comparable to the Prius.

"We don't expect to see a very high volume of sales of this car in China in a short period of time. But we bring this technology to help China support sustainable growth and bring consumers in that direction," Joseph Liu, GM China's vice president for sales, told reporters.

The car was developed with contributions from GM's Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center in Shanghai, said Maryann Combs, the center's president.

Hybrids improve fuel efficiency and cut emissions by generating extra power from the brakes as a vehicle stops. But they also cost more because they require both gasoline and electric motors.

GM says the LaCrosse will be the first hybrid made in China. The Prius is assembled from imported parts.

Toyota has sold about 2,500 Priuses in China since 2006, but sales are slowing in part because Chinese drivers are unfamiliar with hybrids, according to reports in the industry press.

GM has made China, the world's second-largest and fastest-growing vehicle market, a key part of its efforts to develop alternative power sources. It announced plans in October for a $250 million (euro158.43 million) fuel research center in Shanghai.

On Saturday, chairman Rick Wagoner took part in opening an automotive energy research center partly financed by GM at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the alma mater of President Hu Jintao.

GM hopes the Chinese government will introduce incentives to encourage sales of alternative vehicles, Liu said.

The company plans to introduce a hybrid version of the Cadillac Escalade sport SUV in China next year, followed by an all-electric car as early as 2010, he said.

GM says it sold just over 1 million vehicles in China last year.

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