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Not Coming Soon to a Lot Near You: Chinese Cars

Not Coming Soon to a Lot Near You: Chinese Cars
Every day in cities like this one, Chinese factories churn out waves of exports that flood markets in the United States and Europe: DVD’s, microwave ovens, furniture, washing machines, shoes and more.

So it is no surprise that as China’s industrial revolution advances, Western automakers and their workers have begun to worry seriously that an invasion of Chinese cars will begin soon.

It turns out it probably will not be so soon after all.

Despite growing anxiety that the Chinese would quickly seek to conquer yet another important industry, it now looks as if it will be at least another several years before Chinese automakers start exporting large numbers of cars they both design and make. They had intended to start selling their own brands in the United States as soon as 2007 but have pushed off their plans by a couple of years.

And now, some Chinese auto executives admit, it could be as late as 2020 before they will be ready to take on the world auto market.

That’s not to say that the Chinese will not follow in the footsteps of Japanese automakers, who first sent over chintzy cars that were roundly criticized, only to set new standards for the industry in later years.

Still, despite China’s manufacturing prowess, it is, for now, proving a lot harder than automakers here anticipated to make cars that appeal to Western tastes.

While Chinese cars are inexpensive and approaching Western levels of reliability, Chinese automakers have not yet brought their styling, safety, emissions and performance standards up to snuff, let alone their skill at marketing home-grown nameplates around the globe.

In one glaring example last year, a German automobile club tested one of 700 vehicles shipped to Europe by a tiny Chinese manufacturer of sport utilities. It came up with a result that humiliated the Chinese officials who oversee the mostly state-owned Chinese car industry: the vehicle, the Landwind New Vision, got the worst crash rating the club had ever awarded in 20 years of testing.

“Most of the Chinese companies that were preparing for exports have turned cautious, because this is a very difficult job,” said Lawrence Ang, a board member who oversees international finance at the Geely Group, a large, publicly traded Chinese automaker.

Chinese subcompact cars from manufacturers like Geely and Lifan have surprisingly ample headroom, but fall short of Western tastes in other areas. The exteriors of Chinese cars tend to have simple curves and straight lines that are easy for factories to stamp out of steel, but look starkly utilitarian by Western standards. Even names like Geely (pronounced JEE-lee) are unfamiliar.

China’s automakers also face rising wages at the same time the country’s currency is gradually appreciating, making Chinese exports more expensive abroad.

“It is a message for us,” said Jiang Lei, the executive vice chairman of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, a government agency that guides the industry. “We cannot rely on cost alone. We have to improve our technology and management level.”

Any delay, however, is welcome news to Detroit automakers, which already have been trimming thousands of workers and closing plants as they continue to lose sales to foreign rivals, especially the Japanese. The extra time to prepare for the Chinese onslaught could help American automakers protect their turf.

That could help defuse tensions arising from the growing American trade deficit with China, already running this year at an annual pace of $185 billion, and still rising.

For all the fears expressed at auto shows from Detroit to Paris in recent months, China’s auto industry does not appear to have any magic formula for making cars. Like other industries in China, this one is dominated by foreign joint ventures and subsidiaries of multinationals, which are building cars for sale in the local market first and plan to export later.

Western anxieties were sparked early this year when Geely surprised auto executives by displaying a subcompact at the Detroit auto show that it had designed by itself. Target dates for exporting — as early as next year — were buzzing around. Meanwhile, Chery Automobile, a rival of Geely, announced that it, too, was planning to export a fully Chinese-made car next year to the United States.

But now, said Mr. Ang, the Geely board member, his company has no plans to export cars to the United States until “2009, 2010 or 2011.” Meanwhile, Chery has twice pushed back its target date for exports to the United States, first from 2007 to 2008, and then again to 2009.

Other Chinese automakers are even more cautious. Shanghai Automotive Industry, First Auto Works and Dongfeng Motor — joint venture partners of multinational automakers that are taking steps to produce their own cars — have all taken go-slow approaches to exports in recent months. And they are refusing to set targets for selling to advanced countries.

Chinese automakers still have strong advantages that will help them in the long run — skilled and diligent workers like Ai Biaohui, for instance, a strapping 22-year-old at the sprawling Geely operations here in east-central China, who labor for less than $250 a month. Chinese cars often retail for a quarter or more less than models of similar size in the United States, with domestic subcompacts selling at home for $7,000.

Moreover, the government supports the industry by allocating to automakers the choicest land, near deepwater ports. The site for the Geely factory here in Ningbo, for instance, is just 600 yards from the docks.

And there are other intangibles. Geely, among the more efficient makers, not only does not have to worry about unions, it even hires drill sergeants from the People’s Liberation Army to improve discipline.

In visits across the country to car factories run solely by Chinese companies, it is apparent that most are not ready for global competition.
 

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Just by looking at the first set of pics, you can tell how cheap these cars are ... the sheetmetal does not look sturdy at all, and it's probably so thin too. Those compact cars must weigh as much as paperweights ... and I bet the engines barely even make 110bhp. The interior is cheaper than Kia, and I though Kia was as bad as it gets.

I feel sorry for the Chinese auto market. I don't think they'll ever be able to catch up with the rest of the world.
 

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Just call me GnG
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not only is it made outta cheap metal, the structure of the car isn't strong. as expected though... they make lots of fake stuff with poor quality.
 

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NO ONE SLEEP IN TOKYO!!!!
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they're crap
on a side note - US businesses are opposing labor unions in China so they can keep making cheap **** over there.
 

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Aside from these cars being bang on cheap replicas of current production vehicles, there is some very interesting production parts coming from China (very innovative stuff).
 

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wow the black pickup looks like a 89-95 toyota pickup, just a redesign front end, then the red and silver ones has the exact from end of a 01-04 nissan frontier, how can they just copy/ replicate them? Is that illegal or buy the ideas?
 

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The ASL's are actually kinda nice.. thats the eclipse looking one
 

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Just call me GnG
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xB
xA
..i dunno, but the rear is a cheap porsche elevating wing/tiburon
corolla
clk
grand cherokee?
crv
nissan frontier
x5
cts
H1

:chuckles:
 
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