Opel Insignia-based Chinese-market Buick RegalEnlarge Photo
If you're anxious already about the growing influence of China in America, brace yourselves for the next decade of cars.
The Wall Street Journal points out this afternoon how China's role in the development, manufacturing and marketing of cars is deeper and wider than ever. According to the paper, consumer trends now are beginning in the Middle Kingdom and making their way to North America and western Europe, in a reversal of history that shows no sign of abating.
The Journal cites examples from Volkswagen to GM, particularly the deep relationship General Motors has with Chinese consumers and American shoppers under the Buick brand. For a decade, Buick's been the spearhead for GM's growth in China. Now, the Buick brand's essentially being reshaped around the American market first, but with China's needs coming in a strong second.
As TheCarConnection has reported this year, the 2011 Buick Regal will be the clearest example yet of how GM will leverage China in its new, smaller global business. The Regal started life as an Opel Insignia, then was earmarked for the Saturn brand as a new Aura. With the closure of Saturn set for December, Buick's inherited the new Regal by way of China, where the sedan's already being marketed, with a nearly identical appearance to the car that's headed to U.S. showrooms next year.
Another prime example: the 2012 Volkswagen "NMS" sedan, to be built in Chattanooga. As we reported in an exclusive earlier this month, Volkswagen has widened the scope of the Chattanooga plant and its new products, the first of which will be a large four-door sedan that will replace the Passat in American showrooms. What began as a project dedicated to American consumers will now reach other developing markets, including Russia and India--and the sedan itself will share much of its running gear with a new sedan to be built in China, sources to TheCarConnection add.
America isn't the only market that feels the influence of China's growth and maturing industry. The Journal describes the recent Tokyo motor show and the growing presence of Chinese car companies in the Makuhari Messe, while it also points out that Mercedes-Benz--which long held up Japan as a prime destination for its cars--now is focusing styling efforts in China, calling it a "pillar" of the company's global strategy. Watching the Chinese market and tapping into its ethos is leading Mercedes to develop its future electric vehicles there--but it's also helping the company to follow new trends in style, too.
As Mercedes designer Olivier Boulay told the paper, "We want to use China as leverage to push ourselves...just like we did years ago in Japan."