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Staff writer

MAKUHARI, Chiba Pref. — General Motors Corp. is counting on its Japanese partners to aid its aggressive push into Asian auto markets.

Attending the 33rd Tokyo Motor Show here, Rudolph Schlais Jr., vice president of the GM Group and president of General Motors Asia Pacific, said the auto giant is trying to increase its 5 percent share in the Asia-Pacific market to 10 percent over the next five years.

Underpinning that growth will be up new plants and expanded product lines.

Schlais said that GM’s China plant has started production and that another new factory will begin operations in Thailand next year.

He also pointed out that Asia represents about 20 percent of the world’s auto industry.

In Australia, where GM has a market share of slightly under 20 percent, it plans to expand product lines to be more competitive selling front-wheel-drive vehicles, he added.

“Those plans are not finished yet. If we add all those pieces up, we can achieve the goal,” Schlais said.

As another effort to boost sales in Asia, GM has been upgrading its partnership with Suzuki Motor Corp. and Isuzu Motors Ltd. by jointly developing new concept vehicles.

For instance, GM has launched the YGM-1, a small passenger car specifically designed for the Asian market. It is scheduled to be manufactured in Asia and put on the regional market in 2001. The model is based on Suzuki’s new platform and GM’s design.

“Suzuki is an Asian manufacturer and designer. We do not have Asian product lines,” Schlais said. “Working with Suzuki is a very fast way to develop Asian cars.”

GM owns 49 percent of Isuzu, which plays a central role in GM’s diesel engine and commercial vehicle development. It also owns 10 percent of Suzuki, which is strong in small cars.

Although Suzuki plans to make different models based on the YGM-1 platform and distribute them under its brand, the models will differ in design and price from GM versions, according to General Motors Japan Ltd.

“We can’t just be an importer in Japan. We’ve got to participate in the domestic market,” Schlais said. “We are working toward platforms, resources and products that will allow us to participate in the Japan market.”

He said GM will also increase regional cooperation with its Japanese partners, noting Suzuki will start producing small cars at GM’s factory in Argentina.

To be competitive in the next century, automakers are trying to develop less environmentally destructive vehicles. GM and Toyota Motor Corp. are already collaborating on fuel-cell vehicle development under a five-year technical cooperation program announced in April.

“There is social need as well as consumer need (for environment-friendly vehicles),” Schlais said. “We are looking at how you best develop environmental technology. By these great companies with their resources, working together, we will make things happen faster.”

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