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.
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 - Get Report) and General Motors (GM - Get Report) . Or they can ride with new-to-China Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) , 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 - Get Report) 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.
Geely may become an exception, though, as its China plants may soon start making Volvos for the North American market. Geely has been trying to revive Volvo since buying it from Ford in 2010.
About 70,000 Chinese autos are exported to other parts of the world every month, a number that has been declining over the past year. One reason for the slowdown is that companies from BYD to JAC are now building vehicles overseas in factories from Brazil to Bulgaria, cutting Chinese export demand.
Most importantly, however, these companies have a home-field advantage in the country with the world's biggest car market. Most get government support of one kind or another, and easy credit from state banks.
Some have strong tie-ups with highly profitable foreign automakers. Brilliance, for example, builds luxury cars for the Chinese market under a joint venture with Germany's BMW. Dongfeng builds cars with Japan's Nissan (NSANY) and Honda (HMC - Get Report) , Korea's Kia (KIMTF) , and France's Renault.
On the Hong Kong exchange, the value of Brilliance stock has climbed about 16% since January. And Dongfeng's stock price has gained about 25% so far this year.
Foreign-brand but made-in-China products dominate the passenger car market. Top sellers are Volkswagen, Buick and Nissan, according to the China Passenger Car Association.
But Great Wall has been making the country's best-selling SUVs for the past 11 years. More than 146,000 of its Haval brand SUVs sold in the first half of this year, easily beating the No. 2 Volkswagen Tiguan. An SUV made by BYD is the ninth best-seller, and Chang'an is eighth. Others are foreign.
Not every listed Chinese automaker is doing well. Guangzhou Auto's stock price this year has been trading between HK$ 9.90 and HK$ 6.60, and is currently around HK$ 8.50.
The worst performer so far this year has been Geely. Its Hong Kong shares have lost 14% since the beginning of the year, and now trade at around HK$ 3.
At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
TheStreet Ratings team rates FORD MOTOR CO as a Buy with a ratings score of B. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate FORD MOTOR CO (F) a BUY. This is driven by multiple strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its increase in net income, attractive valuation levels, growth in earnings per share, increase in stock price during the past year and notable return on equity. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had generally high debt management risk by most measures that we evaluated."
environment, this stock still has good upside potential despite the fact that it has already risen in the past year.
You can view the full analysis from the report here: F Ratings Report