Chinese government says 'no' to foreign cars

BEIJING -- China plans to force government officials to stop buying foreign brands like Volkswagen and Toyota and purchase only locally-branded cars.

The "buy China" guidelines, released over the weekend, are part of a government attempt to bolster the domestic auto industry. Some industry insiders say the rules would have a mostly symbolic impact, given that government purchases make up only a small part of what is now the world's No. 1 car market.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology over the weekend posted a list of 412 vehicles that are likely to be approved for purchase by government agencies this year. It did not include any foreign models. The ministry said the list is open for public comment until March 9.

Volkswagen said the economic consequences would be "limited."

"The majority of the Volkswagen Group China's sales are conducted with private costumers," it said in a statement. "The amount of the so-called fleet sales with government vehicles has been at a lower single-digit percentage range for years."

Takanori Yokoi, a Beijing-based spokesman for Japan's Toyota Motor, declined to comment, saying that the automaker routinely refrains from discussing Chinese government policies.

With China's automakers facing tough competition from foreign brands and sales growth slowing from the torrid pace of recent years, the government has looked for ways to bolster its domestic industry.