The former top executive for General Motors Corp. in China, Philip Murtaugh, joins GM’s major joint-venture partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., SAIC says.

SAIC is one of China’s most powerful automotive groups.

Murtaugh, the former chairman and CEO of GM China Group who resigned last year, is named executive vice president of SAIC Motor Corp., an arm of the Chinese company charged with development of SAIC-brand passenger vehicles.

Murtaugh, who will oversee the auto maker’s export business, helped establish Shanghai GM Automotive Co. Ltd. in 1998 to build Buicks in China and led GM’s China operations until 2005. Kevin Wale now heads GM China as chairman.

GM in January announced its combined sales in China rose 35.2% in 2005, to 665,390 units, allowing it to overtake Volkswagen AG as the country’s No.1 auto maker, with 11.2% market share.

Shanghai GM builds the Buick Regal, Excelle midsize sedan, GL8 minivan and Sail small car. GM’s partnership with Wuling Automotive in Liuzhou makes the Chevy Spark subcompact and mini trucks.

SAIC, which also builds passenger cars in a joint venture with Volkswagen, reportedly set up a $460 million unit in February to manufacture its own cars. It acquired some of the technology by purchasing some of the assets of failed British car maker MG Rover Group Ltd.

SAIC hopes to begin exporting vehicles to the U.S. by 2010, a company official told Ward’s last month.

SAIC President Hu Maoyuan reportedly wants to begin production of SAIC-brand vehicles by 2007, selling 600,000 over five years. The auto maker has said it wants to double capacity to 2 million units by 2010.

GM declines comment on Murtaugh’s appointment.