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The next Toyota or GM may be Chinese

Guang Niu | Getty Images News

China's home-grown automakers are virtually unknown outside the mainland, but give it five or ten years, and you may be cruising in one.

"Chinese automakers have invested heavily in research and development over the past five years, and are now creating better products," Tony Tang, credit analyst at Standard & Poor's (S&P) wrote in a report published on Monday.

"We project that one or more Chinese automakers will become global brands within the next decade," he said.

Tang identified six companies that could make a breakthrough on the global stage within the next five to 10 years: SAIC Motor, Dongfeng Motor Group, Chongqing Changan Automobile, Beijing Automotive Group, Great Wall Motor and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

They are most promising on the product development, branding, quality, distribution, and marketing fronts, he said.

At the moment, Chinese carmakers are still heavily dependent on foreign partners for technology advancement and product designs. Their business strength also lags that of overseas competitors due to less brand recognition and lower product diversity and quality.

"Among our sample companies, SAIC is the only company that we assess as having a 'satisfactory' business risk profile, due to its overall leading market share and improving product development capabilities," he said, referring to the Shanghai-based, state-owned automaker, which produced the largest volume of any Chinese carmaker last year at 4.5 million units.

But further investment in technology and product development will help them unlock their growth potential, according to S&P.

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"It will take at least another three to five years for Chinese automakers to introduce proprietary cars under their own brands that are competitive and attractive by global standards," Tang said.

As auto sales in China cool, mainland automakers will need to look abroad for business opportunities.

Sales growth in the world's largest market decelerated to 6.9 percent in 2014 from 13.9 percent in the previous year amid slowing economic growth.

"Electric cars could offer great catch-up opportunities for Chinese automakers," Tang said.