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Joint venture trailblazer rides the great red wave

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Then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, left, unveils the entrance plate of a new Volkswagen plant in Shanghai on Nov. 3, 1999.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Ever since China opened its gates to the world in the late 1970s, Volkswagen has occupied a special position in the country. Not only are the German manufacturer's vehicles the bestselling cars in the largest auto market in the world, but the company has played a crucial role in leading the rapid industrialization of China. Hence, its operation is considered an exemplary model of joint ventures between Chinese and foreign companies.

     On April 11, 1983, the first Volkswagen passenger sedan, the Santana, rolled out of an assembly line in Shanghai. Under a basic agreement signed with the Shanghai Tractor & Automobile Corporation, the present-day SAIC Motor, in November 1982, Volkswagen became one of the harbingers of industrialization in China. For a country struggling to rehabilitate its economy from the shambles caused by the Cultural Revolution, producing a European brand vehicle on its own soil was a significant step forward.

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