GERMANY/Chinese carmakers are seeking to step into the gaps left by U.S. companies in Europe -- but while acquisitions may give them access to badly-needed technical know-how, global brands and exposure to new markets, the question is whether they have learnt from past failures.

With China now the world's largest car market, it's no surprise that Chinese carmakers -- which have few if any really solid brands within their home market -- want to start making more of a mark.

In theory, foreign acquisitions offer a quick way to do so. Meanwhile the credit crunch has thrown world-renowned but now distressed car marques such as Volvo, Opel or Saab onto the block at what look like rock-bottom prices.

The worry is that Chinese carmakers haven't always found it plain sailing abroad. SAIC Motor Corp is still feeling the pain of buying into Ssangyong Motor Co of Korea. Ssangyong has struggled to compete as South Korea's smallest carmaker, failing to develop new models and running out of cash. A debt-for-equity swap threatens to slash the Chinese company's holding in the South Korean carmaker from just over 50 percent to around 10.

Chinese companies have had more success when they have simply acquired technology and taken it back to China. SAIC had much more success when it bought Britain's MG Rover. In that case, SAIC closed most of the UK manufacturing and used the know-how to launch a mid-range sedan called the Roewe. This has proved successful in China.