China's auto market is booming. Despite some signs of a slowdown, sales remain very, very strong, showing double-digit gains.
One of the big dogs in China's marketplace is Geely, best known to Westerners as the owner of Volvo. In fact, according to AutoNews, Geely is getting so big that it plans to sell cars in the U.S. by the year 2016 -- and the automaker is betting that its association with Volvo will lead to huge success with American shoppers.
But will it? Are Americans ready to buy Chinese cars?
A LONG ROW TO HOE
We applaud audacity, but Geely will likely have a very, very tough time making inroads in the U.S.
For starters, it's Chinese, and to generations of Americans, "Made in China" has meant "Cheap, poorly made crap". There's no reason that the country's image can't be improved -- after all, we're talking about the country that built the Great Wall centuries before Columbus sailed to North America. China has a long history of excellent craftsmanship, which could, in theory, be revived.
But that won't happen overnight. It'll take a lot of re-branding, and it will require many companies working together. Geely will have to overcome China's decades of self-imposed isolation -- not to mention concerns about China's labor practices and human rights abuses.
Unfortunately, there aren't many instructive examples that Geely can follow on the automotive front. In the best-case scenario, it would perform as well as Hyundai and Kia, which toiled for about 20 years before gaining mainstream acceptance in the U.S. (And it might've taken even longer if the two hadn't been helped Samsung and other respected companies, which reshaped America's idea of what "Made in South Korea" really meant.)
In the worst-case scenario, Geely would tank like Coda.
The unknown in this discussion is how Geely's cars will be marketed. According to news reports, these hypothetical vehicles will have been "co-developed" with Volvo -- which, given Volvo's lackluster U.S. sales and quality scores, may not help.
This could translate to a new brand for Geely -- not that it would matter much, since few Americans know of Geely anyway. (That became painfully obvious several years ago when Geely made its first attempt to enter the U.S. market. but aborted because customers didn't know or trust the brand.) Either way, Geely will need to carry out some brand education in addition to its larger message of superior Chinese quality.
Would you consider a Geely -- or any Chinese car, for that matter? Sound off in the comments below.