Zotye Intends to Be 'First' Chinese Brand Sold in the United States

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Whatnext Whatnext on Nov 15, 2018

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

  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Nov 15, 2018

    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.

  • Mike Some Evs are hitting their 3 year lease residual values in 6 months.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I am just here for the beer! (did I say it right?)
  • El scotto Tim, to be tactful I think a great many of us would like a transcript of TTAC's podcast. 90 minutes is just too long for most of us to listen. -evil El Scotto kicking in- The blog at best provides amusement, 90 minutes is just too much. Way too much.
  • TooManyCars VoGhost; I was referring more to the Canadian context, but the same graft is occurring in the US of A and Europe. Political affiliation appears to be irrelevant.
  • The Oracle Going to see a lot of corporations migrating out of Delaware as the state of incorporation. Musk sets trends, he doesn’t follow them.