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Changfeng Lightens the Cobo Mood



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To be honest, it’s not quite clear what the little Chinese automaker, Changfeng Group, was doing at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Though it brought five separate models to Cobo Hall, it’s not clear if and when any of them might actually reach the U.S. market. But it’s a clear sign that despite the booming demand for automobiles in China, that country’s automakers are chomping at the bit to get their products into the States.


The Changfeng preview was one of the more unusual at the North American International Auto Show, featuring local dealers and politicians, as well as Changfeng’s Chairman mightily struggling with his translated text. “Will he deliver the speech in English?” one journalist asked a PR flack. “He is,” came the clearly miffed reply.


The little maker, based in the province of Hunan, underscores the dramatic transformation reshaping the Chinese economy. Until 1996, Changfeng repaired parts used by the military. That year it reincorporated and formed an alliance with the Japanese automaker, Mitsubishi. Since then, its production capacity has gone from 633 cars and trucks to 100,000 vehicles a year.


Changfeng will clearly have competition in the race to reach the U.S. Among others, the independent Chinese automaker, Chery, has formed an alliance with DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group. Though the deal hasn’t been finalized, it could yield a new generation of minicars reaching American showrooms by 2009.


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