For most of our lives, the words "Made in China" have suggested products of poor quality -- cheap, disposable things that weren't meant to last. As The Detroit News reports, Chinese automaker Geely is anxious to see how Americans react to "Made in China" labels on cars when it ships over the Chinese-made Volvo S60 Inscription later this year.
China had a long history of turning out beautiful art and artifacts. The country's artisans were so respected that, to this day, we refer to most dinnerware as "china".
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, regional struggles, dictatorships, and civil war resulted a shift away from handmade works and toward mass-produced goods of iffy quality. By the time that the U.S. passed the Tariff Act of 1930, which required country-of-origin labels on most U.S.-bound products, China's reputation had already suffered significant harm among consumers.
A few years later came the Communist Revolution of 1949, giving already-skeptical Americans another reason to view the "Made in China" label with outright suspicion. Senator Joseph McCarthy's "Red Scare" campaign didn't help things when it began in 1950.
But consumerism is a funny thing. As Boomer children grew into young adult shoppers, the perception of China began to shift. As that generation became flush with cash, people began demanding cheaper products, from clothing to electronics. Chinese brands were rarely front and center, but behind the scenes, those "Made in China" labels told us where our favorite goods were built. Thanks to changing times and a more open China, fewer and fewer of us raised eyebrows when noticing Chinese handiwork.
More recently, however, China's reputation has suffered some setbacks. There have been a spate of suicides at Foxconn, where our beloved iPods and iPhones are made. Numerous pet deaths were linked to Chinese-made dog food. People across the country sued to have Chinese drywall removed from their homes. And just this weekend, John Oliver tackled a topic that's become increasingly worrisome: sweatshop labor at clothing factories in countries like China.
Granted, plenty of people are still buying iPhones and tennis shoes, but the "Made in China" label still retains a taint of shoddy quality.
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WHAT ABOUT CARS?
One of those models is the Volvo S60 Inscription, and it'll be heading to the U.S. later this year.
The question is: will people buy it?
The answer is: probably.
While some might be dubious, pointing to the short-lived, Chinese-made Coda, Volvo is in a very, very different position. Let us count the ways:
1. First and foremost, Coda was a start-up, while Volvo has been around for decades and created legions of fans. Even though the company now manufactures vehicles in both Europe and Asia, most consumers think of Volvo as a European marque, not a Chinese one.
2. Also, Coda's cars were -- let's face it -- deeply unattractive. Volvo, on the other hand, makes great looking cars. The Volvo S60 Inscription, in particular, is a real looker. That alone will be enough to make many shoppers give it a second glance. Probably a third.
3. Furthermore, Geely and Volvo have gone to great lengths to ensure consumers of the quality of their Chinese-made products. Once each month, workers in China take a finished Volvo off the lot and take it apart, piece by piece, to ensure that it's up to snuff.
4. Last but not least, most shoppers don't seem to care very much about where their vehicles are made. Do you know where yours was built? Have you checked the sticker on your car? (It's required by law.)
The bigger question is probably about Geely itself, which promises to bring Geely-branded vehicles to the U.S. next year. It's the same sort of dilemma faced by Mahindra, which keeps hemming and hawing about entering the U.S. auto market.
(Fun fact: Mahindra is in talks to buy partial ownership of a different Swedish brand, Saab, which has struggled to keep its head above water since being sold by General Motors in 2010. Ford/GM, Volvo/Saab, Geely/Mahindra: the parallels are mind-boggling.)
But the most important question of all is: would you buy one of these Chinese-made Volvos? Sound off in the comments below.