Mexico will be the first North American country where Chinese-built cars will go on sale, although five brands from China are to be displayed at Detroit's North American International Automotive Show this month.

The long-awaited Chinese entry into North America is being made by the China FAW (First Auto Works) Group, through its Mexican partner, Grupo Salinas. Export of FAW cars to Mexico was scheduled to begin by year's end, and ground was broken Nov. 23 for a $150 million assembly plant in the west-central state of Michoacan.

Spokesman Dan McCosh says the first FAW cars exported to Mexico will cost $6,000 to $7,000 retail and be sold at Grupo Salina's Elektra retail chain, which also sells Chinese-built motorcycles, household appliances, furniture and electronics.

The lowest-priced FAW car on sale in Mexico will cost about 5% to 10% below the cheapest models now on the market, including such entry-level cars as the Volkswagen New Beetle, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio.