French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen expects to steal a march over its rivals in the Chinese market by launching its first exclusively 'made-for-China' car in 2011, according to company officials.
The company will also introduce 10 new models in the country over the next five years, to cash in on the burgeoning domestic demand, said Eric Apode, vice president of PSA's China Tech Center on Friday in Shanghai.
"We believe that the cars of the 21st century will be born in China, the cradle of the future automobile industry. So it's vital and important to undertake research and development of car models in China," said Apode.
"When Japanese carmakers established design centers in California 25 years ago, who would have imagined that they would go on to become the market leaders in the US," said Oleg Son, design director of PSA's China Tech Center.
PSA has been the first international automaker to have a wholly-owned research and development center in China. It set up the China Tech Center in Shanghai with an initial investment of 1 billion yuan and the facility commenced operations in September 2008.
The center develops cars directly for Chinese consumers without adapting existing products from its headquarters. It also has a global level functional design studio and is also PSA's first such facility outside France.
The center will launch its first locally designed model styled exclusively for domestic customers in 2011.
The Shanghai center currently employs 200 engineers and PSA plans to boost the strength to 550 by 2012. It would also design car models for other markets like Russia and Argentina.
"We believe the future trends in the automobile industry would depend largely on the Chinese market and consumers. That was what prompted us to set up such an important R&D facility in Shanghai," said Apode.
Statistics from JD Power show that during the first nine months, PSA sold 108,854 units of Citroen-brand vehicles in China, up 39 percent over last year. The sales of Peugeot vehicles increased 24 percent to 78,938 units during the same period.
PSA had earlier set a mid-term sales target of one million units in China by 2015 and a market share of five to six percent.
German luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz has also set up a design studio in Beijing this year to collect information about China's automart and other facets like drivers' tastes and habits to support its global car design.
The world's largest carmaker Toyota Motor Corp is planning to spend 30 billion yen($349.1 milllion ) to 40 billion yen to establish a R&D center in Shanghai early next year, to strengthen its R&D capabilities in China.
Their rivals, like Volkswagen AG, General Motors and Hyundai Corp, already have R&D centers in the country. But all of these are under their joint ventures and responsible for adapting existing models for Chinese consumers.