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Good for GM, Good for China

Oct 11 , 2011

By the time General Motors collapsed into government-guided bankruptcy in 2009, China was surpassing the U.S. to become the world's largest car market. And in striking contrast to the company's home market, where it had been losing market share for nearly half a century, GM was a major beneficiary of China's blistering demand for new cars.

China's overriding importance to GM was so pronounced that GM executives even publicly acknowledged that the Buick brand had been saved from the dismal fates of Pontiac, Hummer and Saab because of the brand's importance to the Chinese market. But how did GM, a company not well known for nimble adaptation or decisive maneuvering, find itself surfing the flood tide of China's market growth and staying ahead of the competition in the auto industry's new center of gravity? Weaving solid reporting with revealing anecdotes and keen insights into Chinese business and culture, Michael J. Dunne tells the story in "American Wheels, Chinese Roads."

Conventional wisdom among auto-industry analysts—few of whom know much about China beyond its head-spinning sales numbers—holds that GM's success in China is the byproduct of an early entrance to the market. Add to this the chestnut that the last Chinese emperor had a fondness for Buicks, and GM's massive Chinese sales volume might appear to be somehow predestined. But as Mr. Dunne explains in engagingly lucid prose, few business undertakings could have had a less certain outcome. Even the most hard-charging of GM execs, "Maximum" Bob Lutz, admits in his recent memoir, "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters," that he viewed expansion into China as "a na?ve and foolhardy bet."

Edward Niedermeyer is the editor of

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