By on November 14, 2018

Zotye Automobile has expressed its intent to become the first Chinese automaker slinging sport utility vehicles in the United States. While some outlets report that this feat would make it the first, that’s putting the cart before the horse. There are few automakers vying for this honor.

Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC) previously outlined its own plan to get its flagship SUV into America by 2019, showing up at the New York International Auto Show last year to promote its exotic wares. While we weren’t overwhelmed by the product, some of which boasted faux exhaust ports and less-than-ambitious interiors, the display proved GAC was a serious automaker and seriously interested in entering the market — which is about all we’re willing to say about Zotye before we see a physical store. 

Zotye announced a strategy to begin selling SUVs in the U.S. in 2020 on Tuesday. Ford, which partners with the Chinese firm in Asia, is not said to be part of its Westward expansion. Roughly a year earlier, the pair signed an agreement to jointly produce a “range of stylish and affordable electric vehicles for consumers in China.”

However, this isn’t supposed to come into play in North America. “There is no current plan for Zotye USA to sell EVs in the U.S. market,” explained Zotye spokesman Chris Hosford.

Zotye is setting up a U.S. sales and distribution arm in Lake Forest, California, and plans to sell vehicles through franchised dealers. Considering other Chinese brands (like Lynk & Co) aim to establish a subscription based model using mobile purchasing, it’s interesting hearing that Zotye intends to pursue a more practical alternative. Still, don’t dismiss the subscription model outright. Lynk & Co may not be moving its own models in the U.S., but its corporate sibling, Volvo Cars, is laying the foundation for such shenanigans with its own subscription service.

Presently, Zotye USA is owned by HAAH Automotive Holdings, headed by President and CEO Duke Hale, a longtime executive at several automotive import operations. “I am beyond thrilled to make this announcement, the result of more than four years of discussions and negotiations with the Zotye in China,” Hale said in a statement. “With the agreement, we have begun setting up a franchised dealer network to handle sales and service in America. We’ve had discussions with several major dealers already and will have more to say about that in the months to come.”

The brand plans to announce its first batch of about 20 franchised dealers next month. Hale also said it wouldn’t be beholden to them, suggesting it was open to online purchasing and unique marketing strategies.

Will Zotye be the first Chinese manufacturer selling cars in America? It’s exceedingly difficult to tell at this stage. GAC has already started making inroads with the National Automobile Dealers Association after its appearance at NYIAS 2018. However, last month it announced it probably wouldn’t be ready to tackle the market until 2020.

That’s kind of a tradition at this point. Chinese automakers frequently establish timelines for market entry, then perpetually move the goalposts while refining their battle plan. In their defense, these are uncertain times and trade conditions may not allow for easy access.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, Zotye wants to undercut every other automaker operating within the region. The first model is said to be the T600, a midsize crossover that clearly apes some of Volkswagen Group’s styling and sells for below $14,000 in Asia. The model has historically made use of Mitsubishi’s ancient Orion or Sirius platforms, helping reduce development costs while giving fans of Diamond Star Motors something to talk about.

[Images: Zotye Automobile]

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61 Comments on “Zotye Intends to Be ‘First’ Chinese Brand Sold in the United States...”

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    OK-queue the comments about how the Chinese will never be successful in the U.S. market. Even though Americans are driving Chinese made vehicles now-they just don’t know it.

    You know-the same things they said about the Koreans….

  • avatar

    Ooh, just what America needs another cheap, dull crossover. Be still my heart

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      If it is about $5000 cheaper than a Kia, expect to see your airport rental fleets taken over by them…..

      • 0 avatar

        Having a new vehicle with a warranty is all that matters to large segment of car-shoppers. If they’re cheap enough and have decent warranties, they’ll sell here. Throw in a fair amount of safety equipment and watch high school parking lots fill up with them.

  • avatar

    Honestly it looks less ugly than a lot of the current entrants in the class, and it looks like a stick shift in the interior photo.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder what the “dealer experience” will be like, any guesses?

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        Methinks most will be purchased used at the Hertz lots.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve watched a lot of youtube on the question of long-term ownership experiences of people in Russia with Chinese cars bought new, the biggest issues are long term durability of materials, whether it’s how quickly rust appears from tiny nicks in the paint, or how quickly headlights go cloudy or get bad seals, interior wear, etc. Mechanically at least on the BOF SUVs, most of the hardware is copied from Isuzu and Toyota so that seems to hold up decently, but I can’t help but wonder even there how things like rubber bushings might hold up with time. As far as dealership experiences under warranty, sounds like most people are mostly happy, the Chinese have a lot on the line and are aiming to please. Something you couldn’t say about the typical UAZ dealer. An online car site has been testing a new UAZ Patriot for a little over a year in the Siberian Far East and both the build quality and the dealer experience has been stupendously horrible. Like worse than 1970s malaise-mobiles bad.

        • 0 avatar

          Can they be worse than Ladas or whatever they make in Russia these days?

          • 0 avatar

            It sure is going to be fun finding out

          • 0 avatar

            Like I mentioned in the post, the Chinese have easily leap-frogged UAZ in quality (about as low of a bar as there exists), I think Lada in recent years has updated most of their stamping/welding/painting to European-ish spec, most of the various underhood accessories/auxiliary systems are also pretty standardized with the rest of the world, just part of the modern auto landscape of buying everything from suppliers I suppose. Interiors are on-par with the Logans and other lower end European economy cars they compete against. You can reasonably expect a Lada to be generally trouble free for the first 100k KM or so.

    • 0 avatar

      @gtem: Agreed. It may be a bit bland in the styling department, but not everyone wants a Toyota Avalon these days. I rather like it, though. IMO, in order to be a success here in the US it will need to be priced very cheaply, like Yugo-cheap as it was back in the 1980’s.

  • avatar

    3000% tariffs unless all Chinese companies are forced to locate R&D here and provide all trade secrets to US partners.

  • avatar

    Chinese cars can… Chinese cars can’t…
    Hey…the truth is Chinese parts have been in our
    “American” cars for for over 15 years. Not true?
    Oh really… ?
    I picked up a 2001 LeSabre for a winter beater.
    All ALL (did I say all?) of the electric window
    regulators were not working. (The rest of the
    car is perfect).
    So they get replaced with regulators from a
    2001 or a 2002 LeSabre. They all work flawlessly.
    Oh wait: the broken ones are all stamped
    “Made in the USA”.
    The ones that work? “Made in China”.
    People: there are 124 Auto Makers in China.
    Not all are cheap junk.
    124…….Think about it.

  • avatar

    The Yugo was a success for a bit of time, why because even a 20 year old Fiat sold cheap enough will garner a few suckers. And this one has the advantage of being a boring SUV!

    • 0 avatar

      How much cheaper was were Yugos than the average car when they came over? I wasn’t around to see it first hand, but recall reading somewhere that it wasn’t that much cheaper.

      • 0 avatar

        Depending upon your target car, about 35-40% less.

        For example, a base (very basic) 1985 Chevy Cavalier 4 door, a very popular car that year, was about $6900. The 1985 Yugo started out at $3995, but everything was optional and additional. You got a four tires and a steering wheel, so to speak. IIRC, somewhere around $4200 was the number that most of them sold for, at least in my neighborhood back then. I think the big option was an AM/FM cassette and four speakers.

      • 0 avatar

        Did some searching and found this
        1987 model year: the basic entry-level $3,990 GV (for “Great Value”),
        Ford Escort $6,895
        Ford Taurus $11,808
        Honda Accord $10,925
        Chevrolet Cavalier $7,395
        Chevrolet Celebrity $11,010
        Hyundai $5,395
        Oldsombile Ciera $11,420
        Nissan Sentra $6,449
        Ford Tempo $9,056
        Chevrolet Corsica / Berreta $9,955
        Pontiac Grand AM $10,269
        Toyota Camry $11,248
        Chevrolet Caprice $12,510
        Honda Civic $6,195
        Ford Mustang $9,209

        • 0 avatar

          Those prices look so interesting! With the benefit of hindsight, what was a great value?

          My vote for least value for money goes to: Oldsmobile Ciera.

          • 0 avatar

            Without knowing the equipment levels in the cars mentioned, the numbers are a little misleading. Your new $3995 Yugo came with… nothing. Everything was optional. Even in the cheapest Escort, you got a radio and a cheap, but decent interior. Plus, in the early years of Yugo sales, you could negotiate the price of an Escort *down*, not so much with the Yugo. Not until the early 90’s, by then, no one cared about the Yugo.

            Similarly, between the ~$11K Camry and the ~$11K Ciera, the Ciera came with a longer standard list of equipment. I’d have to see a list of what they had, but I’m willing to bet that you’d go well above ~$11K to get your Camry to match the Ciera’s equipment list. Again, you could negotiate the Ciera’s price *down* from the Camry’s. Back in the day? I would have probably popped for the Taurus, that was similarly priced. The Ciera had been around for five years already, along with the Camry at that time. The inaugural Taurus was the best of them all, but we didn’t know that back then…

          • 0 avatar

            I would pick the Chevy Caprice. The boxy Caprice of that era was big and comfy. Childhood memories lol

          • 0 avatar

            @Sceptic: I missed the Cappy in the list. Back in the day I drove the Impala (which was the base model then) as a company car. You’re right, big and comfy. And durable, too!

  • avatar

    So, is VAG going to sue them for copying the Q5 or is mixing the front end from a VW into the mix enough to call it their own design somehow?
    It’s not close enough to be made with old Audi tooling though, unlike some of the other cars they make…

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Wow. That looks like a mash-up between the first-gen Q5 and second-gen Touareg. The wing mirrors are particularly damning.

    I’m sure VW Group will not be pleased.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I have no problem with the looks. My question is how cheap will these be and can I buy one at Walmart?

  • avatar

    introducing the Audwagen TouaQ5

  • avatar

    I’m old enough to remember when they laughed at Japanese cars cuz they were pieces of crap.

    Then they laughed at Korean cars because they were pieces of crap.

  • avatar

    Design wise the vehicle is definitely inspired by the Audi Q5.

  • avatar

    What exactly would make Zotye the first Chinese manufacturer in the US instead of, say, Volvo? Volvo is owned by Geely (Chinese) and the S90 is made in China. Even the argument of R&D being based in the country doesn’t hold up, because the design of this SUV was obviously done in Wolfsburg, Germany.

  • avatar

    The only thing it has going for it is a manual transmission. And maybe the fact that by plagiarizing the entire vehicle from other manufacturers, this mongrel might be semi acceptable. At least it’s not offensive looking. The price is certain to undercut even Kia, since Chinese workers make even less than Mexican auto workers.
    At the very least, it’ll be an interesting show to watch.

  • avatar

    How much you want to bet that this will show up within 4-5 years of use, on the BHPH lots right next to Nissan’s?

  • avatar

    “The model has historically made use of Mitsubishi’s ancient Orion or Sirius platforms, helping reduce development costs”

    So it appears this CUV might straight up use the engine out of a ’91 Plymouth Laser Turbo (the specs are even within 3hp/tq). I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it is definitely something.

    • 0 avatar

      A huge proportion of first Chinese vehicles on the Russian market all seemed to use some version of an 1980s-era Mitsubishi 4 cylinder with about 126hp, mated to a 5spd manual. BOF SUV underpinnings were 1990s era Isuzu bits (not a bad thing). Some of the smaller 4cyl FWD drivetrains were really old A-series Toyota stuff, again not a bad thing, and even with Chinese metallurgy they seem to hold up fine.

      The newer drivetrains look like a lot of smaller turbocharged engines, VW inspired possibly?, and automatic transmissions. I’d be more scared of this stuff than the cloned 1980s-japan hardware.

  • avatar

    Better change the name first to something more pronounceable if they want it to succeed in the USA.

  • avatar

    I’m heading home from China today, after a few weeks here. I always took note of the plethora of domestic brands. I do not recall seeing the Zoyte logo. If they’re not making much of a dent in the Chinese market, I don’t have much faith in them reaching the US.

    This is all probably a ploy to attract investors.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT


    They sold 300,000 vehicles in China in 2017. I have no idea of the size of the Chinese auto market-but they sold 300,000 units. Unlike some (auto) companies out of China who want to sell EVs-but have never sold a single automobile-plug in or otherwise.

  • avatar

    The world/the US has too many car brands.

    Can a Chinese brand make in America? Sure.

    But it has to be cheaper and more reliable and/or more efficient and/or more powerful than its competitors and/or have a better, uniform dealer experience (that ain’t cheap).

    Good luck squaring that circle.

  • avatar

    I’d buy that for a dollar!

    Seriously though, I rode in a couple of newer-model Chinese cars while visiting Peru last year and they ran good enough, the AC blew cold, and they were relatively quiet and comfortable.

    Those Mitsu engines are ancient and drink gas but not what I’d call “unreliable” either. Id say that if Zotye could actually build them to survive a NHTSA crash test and sold them cheap enough with a decent warranty, I could see them making it here. I’d still buy a 10 year old Toyota, but still…

  • avatar

    Nice to see that China’s economic might has allowed them to successfully rip off the design of the last generation Touareg.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The Chinese makers have stepped up their game with vehicle manufacturing over the past couple of years. I do believe they realise to sell globally and into mature markets requires vehicles of a high standard.

    Irrespective of what platform the vehicle sits on it’s the perception of value vs cost vs quality that will be the success of the Chinese. In some ways because they are Chinese I’d expect the quality to be far better than the original Korean and Japanese exports. I don’t even consider the vehicles that used to come from behind the Iron Curtain competitive.

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