When Will We See Chinese Cars On North American Roads?
It seems like we’ve been hearing about it forever — that fateful day when China surpasses the United States by every single metric imaginable and forces everyone to drive its cars. While that premonition has already come to pass in some respects, there’s still no overtly Chinese automobiles milling around on North American roads.
However, manufacturers from The People’s Republic have been looking westward for a decade. I can recall BYD Auto, along with other Chinese firms, having a booth in the basement of the North American International Auto Show way back in 2008. They weren’t there because they had nothing better to do — they were there to size up the competition and let America know they were coming. Of course, nothing happens overnight and Chinese automakers have been a little busy converting their domestic market into the world’s largest. But the time for westward expansion is fast approaching.
Geely Automotive may be among the closest to achieving the goal. Having already stated its intention to bring its Lynk & Co subsidiary to Europe and North America, it’s also the current owner of both London Taxi Co and Volvo Cars. While neither of those brands are distinctively Chinese, Volvo’s XC40 rides on the same Compact Modular Architecture as Lynk & Co’s 01 crossover.
“We have in the Western world an outrageous arrogance. We think we’re ahead. It’s going to change,” Alain Visser, senior vice president of Lynk & Co, told Reuters in a recent interview. “China is passing you at a speed that, in our arrogance, we don’t even see.”
Geely has tasked Visser specifically with the global expansion of Lynk and, so far, that strategy involves selling cars through directly-owned stores or online instead of through traditional dealer franchises. That’s going to be a little harder in the U.S., but the brand has a solution — subscription services. Volvo is even testing the waters for Lynk & Co by offering the proposed services on the XC40.
However, GAC Motor president Yu Jun recently stated that his company is still hoping to beat everyone else to the party and launch products in the American market within the next two years.
“We are building the first North America R&D Center in Silicon Valley this year and planning to enter the North American market by 2019,” he said in a release. GAC has also said it wants to have a strong presence at the 2018 North American International Auto Show and intends to bring the GA4, GA8, GM8, GS8, and a handful of concept models to Detroit next month.
Market research has positioned its likely entry point somewhere on the East Coast of the United States, with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and New York being the obvious candidates. The first car it wants to sell? Probably the Trumpchi GS8 sport utility vehicle. However, its name will be adjusted to avoid any political complications. “We respect culture in the U.S. and understand there’s no precedence to use the current president’s name as a brand name,” the company explained.
It’s not going to be a silky smooth entry for Chinese automakers, however. Most countries are exceptionally wary of unproven foreign brands. Japan still isn’t particularly fond of American autos and it took the U.S. years before it was willing to accept cars developed in The Land of the Rising Sun. Meanwhile, Korean brands have only just begun to witness the softening of Western hearts.
“A key obstacle in markets like the United States is a consumer bias against Chinese-made goods,” said Jeff Cai, a Beijing-based senior director at JD Power & Associates. “Our research found most U.S. consumers think China is a third-world country that builds low-quality products.”
Further complicating the matter is China’s repeated sin of copying other country’s designs. Every Changan SUV is basically a Land Rover doppelganger; the LandWind X7 is a Range Rover Evoque, the JAC A6 is an Audi A6, the Lifan 330 is a Mini Cooper, the Kawei K1 and JAC 4R3 are both the Ford F-150, and it just goes on and on like that.
In the past, foreign companies filing claims of copyright infringement in the region are usually defeated by the Chinese government, which frequently sides with domestic carmakers. So there is little reason for manufacturers not to copy. It certainly hasn’t made anyone sympathetic to the plight of Chinese manufacturers (even those not guilty of the misdeed) trying to break into Europe and North America.
That said, we doubt it’ll be any single automaker’s undoing. Most consumers are unaware of China’s penchant for duplicating designs, and will only need to be convinced that its brands can offer a solid product for a reasonable price.
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