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The U.S. automotive industry will remain weak until the uncertainty surrounding the possible war in Iraq is clarified, General Motors Corp. Chairman John Smith Jr. said Monday in Tokyo.

“Uncertainty in the marketplace is being reflected in sales right now,” Smith said of the world’s largest auto market. “The real question is how long the war lasts. My judgment is, if it’s quick, the market will come back” soon.

Smith will step down from his post May 1.

Turning to other topics, Smith said Japan will lose its position as the world’s second-largest automotive market to China in the next four to five years unless it turns its economy around.

About 3.4 million new vehicles were sold in China in 2002, up about 40 percent from the previous year. In Japan, vehicle sales fell 1.9 percent to 5.79 million units.

If China’s economy continues to grow at the current pace, its auto market will surpass that of the U.S. in 25 years, Smith said.

To win a bigger slice of the growing markets in China and other Asia-Pacific countries, GM will optimize its partnerships with Japanese and South Korean carmakers, Smith said.

GM has capital alliances with Isuzu Motors Ltd., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., better know for its Subaru brand. It also set up a new carmaker in South Korea in 2002 by acquiring Daewoo Motor Co.

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