CHANGCHUN — First Auto Works-Volkswagen Automotive Co. Ltd. begins production of its first luxury sedan Sept. 6.

The joint venture rolled the first Audi A6 off the line here amid much celebration. With this product, Volkswagen AG now boasts the broadest product lineup in China.

“We can now proudly claim to have launched an automobile that occupies a unique market position in the country with the world's largest population,” Franz-Josef Paefgen, chairman of VW's Audi AG division board of management, tells reporters at the ceremony.

More than 100,000 Audi cars so far have been delivered to Chinese customers. The A6 version presented is the first current premium model to be produced locally for the Chinese market, Paefgen says. FAW sources declare the A6 the most advanced car ever made in China.

“The A6 opens up a new era in Chinese automobile manufacturing,” Paefgen says. “As far as product quality is concerned, the same critical standards are applied as at all the other plants that manufacture Audi cars.”

Developed jointly by German and Chinese engineers, the new car is completely different from its other Audi models, the Audi 100 and Audi 200, officials say.

It also is different from the A6 sold in Europe and North America. The main modifications to the Chinese-version are the engine and running gear.

Its wheelbase is 90 mm (3.5 ins.) longer to provide additional space for rear-seat passengers. Audi also tweaked the chassis and tires to accommodate China's harsh road conditions.

The model will come with Audi's standard 1.8L 4-cyl. and 2.4L, or 2.8L 6-cyl., with either a manual or automatic gearbox. The 1.8L engine will be made at FAW-VW facilities, while the 2.4L and 2.8L engines are assembled locally with parts and components from Germany.

The list of standard equipment is more comprehensive than in most China-made vehicles. It includes anti-lock brakes, dual air bags, an anti-theft warning system and a system to accommodate mobile phones. Optional extras include such luxuries as leather upholstery, a CD player and cruise control.

FAW-VW initially is targeting a customer base from institutional users, such as government departments, and plans to incrementally grow its private-customer base in the coming years.

The automaker declines to quote exact prices for its new model, but sources expect price tags to range from RMB350,000 (US$42,944) to RMB500,000 (US$61,349), depending on engine size.

Some 40% of the car's parts and components are locally made, a number expected to rise to 60% by the end of next year.

The Audi A6 represents an investment of some RMB1.1 billion (US$135 million) on the part of FAW-VW, and has an annual capacity of 30,000 units.

JV officials say 550 Audi A6 cars will be produced this year, to be marketed on the first day of the new millennium. Production goals are set at 13,000 units in 2000, and 30,000 in 2001.