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Can China save General Motors?

Seven thousand miles from Detroit, GM builds a great wall of Buicks.

But economic growth doesn't entirely explain GM's success in China. The missing piece? Smart marketing, particularly of Buick — something the company isn't exactly famous for in Detroit.

In China, General Motors has done a superb job of pitching Buick as a cool, even sexy, luxury car. It's not viewed as something your grandfather would drive. Instead, GM positioned Buick as an aspirational brand that fits in perfectly with China's national go-go race to modernity.

As a result, the Buick has become a symbol of the country's rising prosperity — a fun, four-wheeled, tactile embodiment of Deng Xiaoping's famous phrase, "To get rich is glorious."

GM recognized that important trait in China's newly prosperous consumers. It then gave the brand just the right marketing push, as evidenced by this 2009 TV spot for its Buick Regal Turbo that features a pair of prosperous Shanghai hipsters:

Of course, plenty could still go wrong for GM in the dragon.

Local or other global automakers could produce better vehicles, driving GM out of the market. Its domestic and other global problems could sink the overall company. China Inc. could crash, as was predicted this week by James S. Chanos — a hedge fund investor who made his fortune by foreseeing bad things (like Enron's collapse) where almost everyone else sees promise.

Then, of course, there is the question of how to cope with the environmental impact of millions upon millions of new cars hitting Chinese roads every year, belching CO2 into the planet's atmosphere.

But until then, GM will try to capitalize on its early gains in China. It's expected to add 10 new products in the country this year, including a redesigned minivan. GM will also update its existing model line-up, including sleeker versions its HRV compact car, and yes, its popular Buick Excelle.

What's Mandarin for, "Sorry, Detroit?"

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