BEIJING (TheStreet) -- It's easy to get hypnotized by the mind-boggling manufacturing and sales data released every month by China's auto industry.
Not only is China far and away the world's biggest maker and market for motor vehicles, but the industry is still growing at a healthy rate.
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Mainland factories built 22.1 million units last year, and Chinese consumers bought 21.9 million units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Strong data from the first-half suggests production as well as sales could top 24 million units this year.
To get on the road with the Chinese auto industry, U.S. stock investors can choose from well-known American automakers with strong ties to China, such as Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) . Or they can ride with new-to-China Tesla (TSLA) , betting that the Beijing government will be kind to the California company by overlooking threats to China's state-backed electric car sector.
But investors can also try a road less traveled by buying over-the-counter stock in Chinese auto companies that trade on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Some of these companies also trade on the Shanghai or Shenzhen exchanges, which are currently closed to overseas retail traders but could open if China stays on course with financial liberalization plans.
It's worth noting that some Chinese, state-run automakers only list on the mainland, and some do not list at all. Absent in Hong Kong, for example, are SAIC, FAW, Chang'an, Chery, BAIC and JAC. SAIC builds vehicles with GM and Volkswagen (VLKAY) , Chang'an partners with Ford, and FAW is a Toyota (TM) teammate.
It's true that sedans, compacts and SUVs rolling off Chinese assembly lines are neither sold in the U.S. nor most of Europe. Consumer tastes and strict safety standards in western countries could keep the Chinese at bay for a long time.
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