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Volvo chief bullish on China market

NEW YORK – Volvo’s sales have multiplied by about 40 percent in the U.S. in the first quarter, topping the 10,000 mark and portending an even higher growth potential for China.

That was the outlook spelled out for reporters at the New York Auto Show’s media days by Volvo Car Corp. CEO Stephen Odell, asked about the Swedish brand’s expectations for China under its new owner, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

Volvo sold about 20,000 units in China last year and “will likely finish 2010 near the 30,000 mark,” Odell said.

“The Chinese market should surge to 20 million units a year by 2020,” by which time Geely promises to have built an assembly plant for Volvo in China, which would add capacity to Volvo’s present plants in Torslanda and Uddevalla, Sweden, and Ghent, Belgium.

Volvo’s worldwide sales in 2009 fell 10 percent from 2008 to 334,808 units. The outlook for Volvo still will reflect close ties to former owner Ford, which shares numerous bodies and platforms with Volvo, according to Odell.

Ford was stung by a Volvo’s string of losses, having paid $6.35 billion for it in 1999 and sold it to Geely for $1.8 billion 11 years later.

Disposing of Volvo was part of the domestic-focus strategy pursued by Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors in 2008.

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