Chrysler Suicide Watch 18: Chrysler Pops Its Chery
Do ya have a hankerin’ for a cheap small car that can’t be satisfied by an offering from Korea, Japan, Europe or the good ‘ole US of A? Me neither. But Chrysler’s CEO thinks you– or someone– does. On July Fourth (no less), Tom LaSorda finally inked a deal with China’s Chery Automobile Company. As early as 2009, Chrysler could be offering Dodge-branded, Chery-manufactured subcompacts in the US and Europe. Target price: $7k. Too good to be true? You bet it is.
About a week before LaSorda was ordering Chinese, Brilliance submitted their would-be Autobahn cruiser to the Germany’s Automobile Association for 40mph head-on and side-impact tests. The sedan failed brilliantly, earning just a one star rating (five possible). The spectacular result for a Chinese-made sedan has raised new questions about Chery’s readiness to produce vehicles for the U.S. market.
You may recall that Chery, China’s eighth largest automaker, survived a brief association with the sterling silver tongued Malcolm Bricklin, whose numerous vehicular importation schemes include the shameful Yugo. The rupture of the Bricklin-Chery deal cleared the path for the Chrysler agreement. As Bricklin walked away from his abortive Chinese venture, his parting comments were prescient.
“The Chinese need to learn that you cannot develop cars for the Chinese market and then upgrade them for the North American Market,” the entrepreneur proclaimed. “You must build for the North American market and then de-option for other markets, never having two standards for quality since great quality is the only option.”
That’s pretty rich for the man whose Canadian-built SV-1 (Safety Vehicle 1) was famous for its leaking gull wing doors. Anyway, assuming Bricklin learned his lesson, Chrysler didn't. The Sino-American partnership plans to upgrade the Chinese market Chery A1 for the U.S. market.
John Humphrey says Chery’s unlikely meet their ambitious 2009 target for U.S. export. In fact, J.D. Power and Associates’ General Manager for the Asia/Pacific region says that none of the Chinese auto manufacturers are prepared to meet U.S. environmental and safety standards.
Humphrey says Chery is closer to being ready than its fellow Chinese manufacturers, but a U.S.-legal Chery A1 is still “at least a product generation away.” If Humphrey’s correct, Chrysler’s re-branded subcompact is about five years out.
In China, the Chery A1 sells for $7100 to $7900. Both LaSorda and Chery’s CEO have announced that the U.S. A1 will sell for $7k. Does this mean that the American market will get a stripped-down version? Not likely.
Industry analysts say that the A1’s $7k price point is highly unrealistic; they estimate that the Chinese export would have to sell for $10k to turn anything even remotely resembling a profit.
George Magliano, automotive research director for Global Insight is adamant. “I don’t think seven is going to work… In the U.S., this thing has got to be styled right, it’s got to perform right, it’s got to have quality, it’s got to have safety. You don’t get that for $7k.”
Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for IRN Inc., predicts that the Chery-Dodge could cost as much as $15k– once laden with features that U.S. consumers demand (e.g. power door locks and windows, and a high end stereo system).
Immediately after Chrysler and Chery signed their agreement, PRC Communist Party bureaucrats gave official approval to the Chrysler-Chery deal ('natch). At around the same time, the partnership garnered the attention of another government.
Reacting to the importation of tainted Chinese pet food and toothpaste into the American market, Congress plans to hold its first hearings on the safety of Chinese-manufactured goods this month.
The recent recall of 450k defective Chinese-made tires sourcing from the Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. also caught the eye of the Senate’s Commerce Committee. Don’t expect any pity on Chinese manufacturers from the Democrats that now control both houses of congress, who’d love nothing more than to slow the tide of imported cars and Chinese car parts that “steal” union jobs.
The smallest car in Chrysler’s current arsenal is the linebacker-sized Caliber, whose base price is roughly twice that of the proposed sticker for Chery A1 import, whose quality and driving dynamics can’t hold a candle to the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris or Nissan Versa.
While you don’t have to survey a dealer lot stuffed with unsold Aspangos to appreciate Chrysler’s need for a viable subcompact, summoning a federalized Chery A1 seems a distinctly enigmatic choice.
OK, dumb. If the Chinese import's two years too late and twice the targeted price, it’s going to hit the exact same wall as the Caliber. If the Chery A1 gets a one star government crash test rating… In this country, three strikes and you’re out.
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