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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG, Europe's biggest carmaker, plans to launch more than 20 models of battery-driven cars in China by the end of 2018, as it capitalizes on Beijing's support for low-emission vehicles in the country's campaign against pollution.
By 2020 there could be "some hundred thousand" pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in China under Volkswagen Group, most of which would be locally made, Jochem Heizmann, head of Volkswagen Group China, said on Tuesday.
"In the near future, Volkswagen will be offering Chinese drivers over 20 new energy vehicles, from small cars to large-sized SUVs, from plug-in hybrids to pure electric cars," Heizmann said in Shanghai.
China has set a target of putting 5 million green vehicles on roads by 2020 and carmakers such as Volkswagen, BMW, Tesla Motors Inc and Nissan Motor Co are vying for a share of that.
Beijing, enveloped by thick smog over the past few days, has announced various long-term schemes over recent years to end the problem but there is little sign of improvement.
"I spend a big portion of my time in Beijing, and everyone is suffering there...," Heizmann told reporters.
Beijing is subsidizing purchases of low-emission vehicles and has published rules that require foreign and Chinese carmakers to meet stringent fuel consumption targets. Heizmann said the targets would be difficult to meet without the help of electric vehicles.
Volkswagen will launch its pure-electric car, the e-up! in China this year, and plans to launch its e-Golf and the plug-in hybrid model Golf GTE next year.
Electrification will also gradually apply to other models such as Passat and Audi cars, and could be extended to almost every product segment, Heizmann said, thanks to a particular strategy that enables it to produce cars more cost efficiently.
"With this modular strategy, we don't need a different car factory. The e-Golf can be produced in the same body shop and assembly line as a normal Golf," he said. "This is an advantage."
Reporting by Samuel Shen and Kazunori Takada. Editing by Jane Merriman and Susan Thomas