Wulings To Be Reborn In India As Chevys

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

The board of GM has a week-long meeting in Shanghai. Someone just happened to be in the same place at the same time, and quite possibly unearthed the secret all of India is dying to hear: Under what brand will the Wuling cars be introduced once they hit India? Apparently, not Wuling.

Before we go there, let’s go back a bit: In December 2009, things were dire at GM. GM sold a crucial one percent share of their Chinese joint venture to its Chinese partner SAIC, a transaction that has been analyzed in-depth by Ed Niedermeyer. Something else happened in the darkest times of GM: GM handed its Chinese partner SAIC the keys to the Indian market, from which SAIC had been effectively locked out. GM and SAIC formed a 50:50 Hong Kong based investment company that owns the Indian operations. GM contributed their Indian presence, SAIC contributed $350m in cash that was in short supply at the times. For that pittance, GM sold off half of their future in the world’s next big auto market. Desperate times, measures, and all that.

Ever since, the question was: What cars will be brought to India? It quickly became clear that it won’t be automobiles that are the pride of American engineering. What will be brought to India are Wulings.

Wuling is the Chinese answer to Suzuki: Small and cheap boxes on wheels with pint-sized engines. They are made by the GM-SAIC-Wuling three-way joint venture, in which GM holds a minority interest. GM’s share was increased, but SAIC has the majority at that JV also. Recently, things weren’t as good as before at Wuling. The breadvan segment took a beating. India is getting even more important.

The trouble is, India is peering anxiously across the Himalaya, and on the subcontinent, Chinese goods have to contend with their own perception gap. All of India, well, all of India’s auto sites are on the lookout for Chinese vans and MPVs. Hooded and camouflaged testers are spotted with regularity on India’s rutted roads. A launch is expected for this year of early 2012. The big question that gives the Indians sleepless nights and reams of forum-fodder: Under which brand? Wuling? Baojun? Or Chevy?

Our Shanghai source possibly can shed some light on it.

In Shanghai, he happened to come across some party tents. He was told the tents are there to protect GM board members from the hot Shanghai sun. He is not a car guy, he’s in the catering business. Through that, he knows his delivery vans. What he spotted there were cars destined for the Indian market, which he characterized as “basically Wuling vans wearing Chevy badges, in various different styles including pick up bodies and regular bodies.”

If what was shown to the board will arrive in India, and unless people change their minds, those Wulings will be reborn in India as Chevys. Anything else would have been ill-advised. Wulings have already been entering South America with a bowtie. Here, they help to balance America’s significant trade deficit with Colombia, just as a for instance. Or look what’s happening in Egypt. An underreported revolution is that Wulings are taking over Egypt disguised as Chevys.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href="http://www.tomokoandbertel.com"> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href="http://www.offshoresuperseries.com"> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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3 of 12 comments
  • Vipul Singh Vipul Singh on Sep 22, 2011

    So what is the engineering pedigree of the Wuling vans (such as the one shown in picture)? Is this an indegenous Chinese product or does it have origins in Japan or elsewhere?

    • Tekdemon Tekdemon on Sep 22, 2011

      Why would it be Japanese? It's also a GM product that they developed together with SAIC/Wuling so if it's really based on anything's all it's GM's light truck platforms. It's been a good seller and would probably do well in India for the same reason it's done well in China-it's cheap (under 4 grand starting) and sippy on gas.

  • Namstrap Namstrap on Sep 23, 2011

    In North America, I think people still think of GM, Ford, and Chrysler as being strictly North American products. That's okay. Folks don't have to know if they don't want to. The truth (TTAC) is that these days cars are made everywhere, and components are made anywhere. Domestics can be foreign, and foreigns can be domestic. A couple years ago I took a walk through the shop, and noted the VIN's of all the vehicles sitting there. We had a couple of Silverados, a Suburban, and I think an Avalanche, plus a Geo Metro, a Toyota Corolla, and a Honda Civic. I found it interesting that all the full size GM trucks were built in Mexico, and that all the so-called imports were built right here in Canada.

  • Lichtronamo Watch as the non-us based automakers shift more production to Mexico in the future.
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  • AMcA My theory is that that when the Big 3 gave away the store to the UAW in the last contract, there was a side deal in which the UAW promised to go after the non-organized transplant plants. Even the UAW understands that if the wage differential gets too high it's gonna kill the golden goose.
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  • 28-Cars-Later WSJ blurb in Think or Swim:Workers at Volkswagen's Tennessee factory voted to join the United Auto Workers, marking a historic win for the 89- year-old union that is seeking to expand where it has struggled before, with foreign-owned factories in the South.The vote is a breakthrough for the UAW, whose membership has shrunk by about three-quarters since the 1970s, to less than 400,000 workers last year.UAW leaders have hitched their growth ambitions to organizing nonunion auto factories, many of which are in southern states where the Detroit-based labor group has failed several times and antiunion sentiment abounds."People are ready for change," said Kelcey Smith, 48, who has worked in the VW plant's paint shop for about a year, after leaving his job at an Amazon.com warehouse in town. "We look forward to making history and bringing change throughout the entire South."&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;...Start the clock on a Chattanooga shutdown.