With nearly 70 new cars, trucks, and concepts scheduled for introduction at next month’s North American International Auto Show, it takes a pretty significant product to stand out from the crowd. But it’s probably fair to say the 7151 CK will draw plenty of attention when the folks at Geely Motors pull off the wraps on the floor of
The silver, mid-size sedan will be the first Chinese car to share the stage at the annual auto show, which has also served as the backdrop for such brand debuts as the Japanese luxury marques, Lexus and Infiniti. Whether Geely will match their success is far from certain, but there’s little doubt the Chinese are readying an export assault on the
While Geely doesn’t actually plan to begin selling cars here until 2008, its arrival couldn’t come at a worse time — at least for the Big Three. It will debut just weeks before Ford Motor Co. reveals plans to close as many as ten assembly and parts plants and cut tens of thousands of jobs. General Motors announced similar cuts in November, in response to a steady increase in market share by European, Japanese and South Korean manufacturers.
There’s no question the Chinese are building a world-class auto industry. From a base of little more than zero, the country’s estimated 200 automakers are expected to turn out 6.4 million passenger cars, vans, buses, and trucks in 2006, according to government statistics. That would push production past that of
Moving growth abroad
Until recently, most of the country’s capacity has been geared to booming domestic demand. And there’s been a general consensus that Chinese carmakers weren’t up to global quality, engineering, and design standards, according to a recent study by IBM and the
But high double-digit growth rates have dipped a bit, even as more foreign carmakers set up shop in
General Motors is already shipping to
It appears to be a race to see who will reach American shores first. A year ago, Bricklin and Chery announced plans to start selling the first in a series of products designed for the
The partnership between Chery and Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles suffered a series of modest setbacks over the past months. Signing up
Meanwhile, Chery was sued by GM, which feared the Chinese maker’s name would be confused with Chevy, the nickname for the Chevrolet brand. Realizing, “that was a gamble we couldn’t afford to lose,” Bricklin agreed to find an alternative name in the
“We don’t anticipate any more delays,” the one-time head of the Yugo venture added, and the launch is now on the calendar in mid- to late-2007.
Working with some high-profile Western partners, including Italian stylists Pininfarina and Ital Design, Chery is developing at least five products for the
Geely plans more modest
Geely, meanwhile, intends to launch the 7151 CK for around $10,000, less than half what similar Japanese and Big Three models go for, and even under-pricing economy-based Korean brands, like Kia and Hyundai. Extremely low labor rates, averaging $3.50 or so on hour — barely five percent of what
Geely plans to start selling the new sedan in the
Its initial sales goals are a modest 50,000 that first year. Visonary Vehicles and Chery, on the other hand, have laid out a first-year target of 250,000, and Bricklin predicts sales could hit one million annually, within as little as five years.
Expect to see still more Chinese brands come to the
Industry analysts, such as Strategic Vision’s Dan Gorrell, stress that cost alone will not guarantee these fledgling imports success. Quality problems doomed Bricklin’s Yugo, and nearly killed Hyundai after its initial, price-driven success in the late 1980s. But if the Chinese can deliver a blend of styling, quality, features and, yes, a low price tag, they could carve out a comfortable niche in the American market.