Great Wall Motors has opened a Bulgarian-Chinese automobile factory in Bulgaria, becoming the first Chinese automaker to assemble cars in the European Union.
The plant in the Bulgarian town of Lovech will assemble 50,000 units of Great Wall's Hover SUV, Steed pick-up and Voleex city car models and employ 2,000 people when at full capacity in 2013.
The project is considered to be nothing short of a coup for Bulgaria, which does not currently produce any passenger vehicles, though it does have a modest but successful automotive components industry.
"I am very happy that this factory has a European license (meaning fulfilling all European technical and ecological standards)," said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov during the opening ceremony. "This means that our country earns money from each car that is exported."
"I can say with pride, that old Bulgarian dream of producing a car came true," added Iliya Terziev, the executive director of Litex motors. "For the last two years we have been building this new Litex motor plant for the production of Great Wall cars together with our friends and partners from Great Wall Motors."
Investment in the plant by Litex Motors, a joint venture in which Great Wall holds a minority stake, is targeted to reach 100 million euros.
With its annual production capacity of 50,000 units and the assemble opportunity for four different models, the plant director Alexander Cramb is proud of its capabilities.
"The production cycle we have set is 5 minutes per car which for those of you who do the mathematics will see adds up to 50,000 a year on two shifts," he told the media. "And the design is actually very flexible, it is designed for seven models. So the modern trend of multi-model production is well entrenched here."
Growth in China's once-sizzling auto market fell back last year and European sales are expected to contract this year as austerity and economic uncertainty bite into consumer spending.
Great Wall CEO Wang Feng Ying thanked the Bulgarian government for supporting the Litex Motors project, and declared that Bulgaria will be a starting point from which the Chinese car manufacturer will start entering the European markets.
"The quality of our products is the best in China, so we are confident that with the quality and the modest prices we are going to succeed in the Bulgarian market as well as in other European markets."
China's top manufacturer of sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks aims to sell 600,000 vehicles total in 2012, with an export target of 100,000 vehicles. Great Wall exported 83,000 units from China last year to 120 countries and regions, including Europe.
Great Wall Motor Co went public in September 2011 and raised $619 million from its Shanghai initial public offering.
The cars produced in Lovech will be the first made in the Balkan country since 1996 when production of the Rover Maestro ended.