Chinese auto maker Chery says signs Messi

Updated: 2010-04-23 15:50
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BEIJING - China's biggest domestic auto brand signaled its ambition Friday to become a global player by signing argentine football star Lionel Messi as an international ambassador to promote its brands.

Chery Automobile Co made the announcement at the Beijing auto show, where it plans to show 29 vehicles including four alternative fuel models.

Messi is the reigning FIFA Player of the Year and stars for Spanish giants Barcelona.

Chery exports to 70 developing countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, and company spokesman Jin Yibo said the company hopes to double exports this year to 100,000 vehicles.
Jin said Messi would promote Chery's luxury Riich brand.

"Messi is the best football player in the world, and thus he makes a great ambassador to represent out premium Riich brand," Jin said.

Chery is bringing in 200 sales agents from foreign markets to see its latest models, Jin said.
The Beijing show has become a focal point for a scramble by automakers for a piece of China's fast-growing market.

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On the eve of the exhibition, Daimler AG unveiled its new ultra-luxury Maybach sedan, part of a flurry of new vehicle launches in china amid slack sales elsewhere.

The show, in a country with almost no private cars 15 years ago, has risen to the top ranks of global auto industry events as China's explosive sales growth drove this market past the United States in 2009 to become the world's biggest.

Foreign automakers are pushing to expand sales in China while young but ambitious local brands such as Volvo buyer Geely want to raise their profile. The auto show opened Friday to the media and opens Tuesday to the general public.

Daimler debuted the blue and silver Maybach at the show, with entertainment by pop singer Leona Lewis.

"Nowhere is the potential and the possibility of the future more apparent than in China today," said Ulrich Walker, chairman and CEO of Daimler Northeast Asia.

The new Maybach, which features optional Swarovski crystal decorations on the seats, perfume atomizers and wireless Internet routers, is one of 14 new vehicles to be shown by global automakers in a reflection of China's new importance.

Sales elsewhere are so weak that China accounts for most or all the global profits for such major producers as General Motors Co, Volkswagen AG and Daimler, said John Zeng, an auto industry analyst for IHS Global Insight.

"The real profit is coming from China," Zeng said. "China is very important for global automakers both for profits and sales volume."

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