And it is now confident of becoming a major global player. The Beijing-based manufacturer fired up in August 1996, building in the main trucks and buses.
Today it is the country's top commercial vehicle brand, has sold more than five million vehicles and reportedly accounts for 50 per cent of Beijing city's income.
Now Foton is moving to be "the leading brand in world auto market", making inroads into new markets and expanding its vehicle line-up from the current heavy and medium duty trucks, buses and vans down to a compact car by 2015.
It wants to be a top ten, world class automotive concern by 2020. The master plan is 5+3+1, first expanding in developing areas such as Russia, India, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia. The next three target markets are North America, Europe and Japan.
And the one is for the home country: "Foton will guarantee its leadership in the Chinese market by the deep plough of its Chinese market." In all this Australia could serve as a small, but important player. Here, as the Japanese realised decades back, is a test market for western customers and tastes.
Medium-duty Foton trucks arrived here three years ago and, all going to plan, the first light commercial Fotons, the Tunland utes, will be here in May. Inside 12 months that range should include dual, single and extra cabs, diesel and petrol engines, two and four-wheel drives.
A commuter/cargo van is on its way, as is an SUV wagon based on the Tunland. And by 2015 there should be a compact car from Foton.
It is a confident company, one that already has a joint venture engine company with Cummins to produce 2.8 litre and 3.8 litre diesel engines for trucks, buses, vans, utes and SUVs.
Last weekend it signed, after nine years of negotiations, a joint venture deal with Daimler - Beijing Foton Daimler Automotive. This alliance will focus on the medium and heavy duty truck market and is another milestone in Foton's drive toward becoming a major manufacturer.
The Tunland utes, and the Australian market, will help map out the road ahead.