One question that Bertel and I find ourselves returning to again and again in our regular conversations is “what will be the first Chinese-made car sold in North America?” We’ve agreed for some time that the groundbreaking first Chinese-made import would come from an established non-Chinese brand, rather than one of the many newer Chinese brands, but our usual suspects typically ranged from GM to Volvo (EV maker Coda builds what are essentially “knock down” Chinese made-cars, but technically they qualify as US assembled, as does Wheego). I don’t think the name “Honda” ever came up in these discussions, but sure enough, the NY Times reports
the Japanese automaker Honda is crossing the threshold by importing subcompact cars into Canada from one of its plants in China. This month, Honda Canada began receiving its smallest model, the Fit, from China instead of Japan, as part of a strategy to produce more vehicles outside its home country.
The decision allows Honda to eke out higher profit in a segment of the auto market where margins are extremely thin, especially since the high value of the yen cuts into all Japanese automakers’ overseas operations.
“The yen has been getting stronger and stronger,” Jerry Chenkin, executive vice president of Honda Canada, said on Tuesday.
Of course, Honda has yet to bring a Chinese-made Fit to the US, where antipathy towards Chinese products is greater and automotive diversity is lesser than in the Great White North. Also, the importation of Chinese Fits is seen as a temporary response to the high Yen, while Honda builds a new plant in Mexico for Fit production, scheduled to open in 2014. Still, this is a significant development, presaging the inevitable importation to the US of Chinese-built vehicles.