NDRC sets timeline to open up China's auto sector

China slaps 179% charge on US sorghum imports

Shares in top Chinese manufacturing companies plunged on Wednesday after Beijing announced plans to phase out ownership limits for foreign automakers, shipbuilders and aircraft firms. Locally produced cars under foreign brands dominate China's auto market.

The country will remove foreign ownership caps on companies making fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2018, for makers of commercial vehicles in 2020 and the wider auto market by 2022, China's state planner said in a statement. Tesla, however, was opposed to the idea and wanted to retain sole ownership of the facility.

A senior General Motors executive said last week that even without ownership caps the US carmaker would not cut ties with local partner SAIC Motor Corp., adding GM would not be as successful in China on its own.

The announcement is just a first step in what China promised will be gradual phasing out of all restrictions on foreign ownership in the automobile industry.

"Nearly all the major global brands have set up their joint-ventures with Chinese partners and it will be unreasonable for them to add many new production lines in the market", Chen said.

The rule change could boost US electric vehicle maker Tesla, which has been seeking to set up a wholly owned plant in Shanghai.

In November, Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk said the U.S. auto market was three years away from making cars on the mainland.

In fact, they may even see more risks than opportunities in ditching their joint venture structures, according to Asia-Pacific chief at consultancy IHS Markit, James Chao.

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"First, Chinese domestic automakers have improved dramatically in their technology know-how during the past decades and the quality of the products measured by J.D. Power's quality indices is now converging to that observed in the US market".

"While getting a bigger share could be advantageous in terms of boosting profits, they may actually be already too dependent on their Chinese partners to sever those ties".

China is the world's biggest electric vehicle market, with last year's sales rising 53 percent over 2016 to 770,000 vehicles.

The nation's biggest carmaker SAIC Motor Corporation, partner of Volkswagen and General Motors, dropped 2.45 percent by the break in Shanghai. GM would not be as successful in China on its own.

Last week GM said that its "growth in China is a result of working with our trusted joint venture partners". "We will continue to work with our partners to provide high-quality products and services to consumers".

Geely has bought a almost 10 percent stake in Daimler, becoming the German automaker's biggest shareholder and gaining leverage to push for technology sharing.

Virtually every other foreign automaker already made deals to create joint-ventures in China for electric vehicles over the last year in preparation for the country's zero-emission vehicle mandate, which starts next year.

Japan's Nissan Motor Co said in a statement it would "monitor how any specific policies develop and will plan accordingly".

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