China’s Chery group matures into global auto player

WUHU, China, Sept 23, 2007 (AFP) – China’s Chery Auto sales vice president Jin Yibo remembers when the roof in the president’s office had a leak so big that they had to put out buckets to collect the water.

“Those were tough times,” said Jin, shaking his head in disbelief as he recalled Chery’s humble beginnings 10 years ago.

It was March 1997, and the firm based in Anhui, one of China’s poorest rural provinces, had been established with 1.7 billion yuan (225 million dollars) of government money but had never turned out a car.

“There was nothing here, this was just fields,” said Lucas Biagini, chief executive of Italian parts supplier Magneti Marelli that now earns about 30 percent of its China sales from the upstart Chinese group.

The plant’s spectacular expansion reflects how Chery has successfully grown from “young boys into mature people,” Biagini said.

With little industrialisation to speak of, the provincial government quixotically cast its fortunes in with the auto industry, betting that China’s 1.3 billion people would soon have enough money to buy their own set of wheels.

“The decision was correct,” Chery vice president Zhou Biren told Western journalists invited to to