Bus and tour operator Argos Enterprise (Holdings) plans to buy state-owned public transport firms in seven mainland cities. The company said it had signed letters of intent with cities in Jiangsu, Anhui and Sichuan provinces, with each acquisition expected to cost 20 million yuan (HK$18.74 million) to 30 million yuan. Argos' general manager for China Zhang Daolin said it was targeting cities with populations of between 500,000 and one million where there was growth potential. 'They are all growing cities with populations anticipated to double within five years,' said Mr Zhang, adding that Argos was in talks with 18 other cities nationwide. 'Our target is to start operation in two to three new cities each year,' he said. Mr Zhang said that the central government's relaxation on foreign investment in the utilities and transportation sectors early this year, allowing foreigners to establish wholly owned firms, raised the probability of more overseas companies entering the market. Last month, Kowloon Motor Bus Holdings took a 35 per cent stake in Shenzhen Public Transportation. 'Hopefully, Argos will buy out state-owned transportation companies and have wholly held ones next year,' Mr Zhang said. Argos has three joint ventures with state-owned public transport companies in Nanjing and Taizhou, in eastern Jiangsu province, and Wanzhou county in Chongqing. Wanzhou's population is expected to jump 45 per cent to 500,000 by the end of the year due to a migration programme necessitated by the Three Gorges Dam. Argos expects to record sales of $80 million this year and 160 million passenger trips, around last year's levels. 'Sars prevented us from gaining a double-digit growth,' Mr Zhang said.