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Transplanted Brazilian Auto Plant To Help China Succeed in Industry

By Keith Bradsher


China is pursuing a novel way to catapult its automobile manufacturing industry into a global force: Buy one of the world’s most sophisticated engine plants, take it apart, piece by piece, transport it halfway around the globe and put it back together again at home.

In the latest sign of China’s manufacturing ambitions, a major Chinese company, hand-in-hand with the Communist Party, is bidding to buy a car engine plant in Brazil from DaimlerChrysler and BMW.

Because the plant is so sophisticated, it is far more feasible for the Chinese automaker, the Lifan Group, to go through such an effort to move it 8,300 miles, rather than to develop its own technology in this industrial hub in western China, the company’s president said Thursday.

If the purchase succeeds — and it is early in the process — China could leapfrog competitors like South Korea to catch up with Japan, Germany and the United States in selling some of the most fuel-efficient yet comfortable cars on the market, like the Honda Civic or the Toyota Corolla.

The failure of China to develop its own version of sophisticated, reliable engines has been the biggest technical obstacle facing Chinese automakers as they modernize and prepare to export to the United States and Europe, Western auto executives and analysts said.

Buying that technology from overseas would not only remove this obstacle but also plant China’s auto industry solidly in a position to produce roomy cars that can also get more than 30 mpg.

The engine plant is one of the most famous and unusual in the auto industry. Built in southern Brazil in the late 1990s at a cost of $500 million by a 50-50 joint venture of Chrysler and BMW, the Campo Largo factory combines the latest American and German technology to produce the 1.6-liter, 16-valve Tritec engine.

Lifan says it is the sole bidder for the factory and wants to bring it here to start producing engines in 2008. Though China’s Communist Party is actively behind the effort, the bold moves are being driven by one of China’s remarkable entrepreneurs: Yin Mingshan has become one of China’s most successful and most politically connected corporate executives, with a hardscrabble upbringing that included spending 22 years of his earlier life in Communist labor camps and prison as punishment for his political dissent.