Chinese carmakers eye U.S. market, despite daunting difficulties

Updated 2017-06-13 10:04:45 Global Times

If a consumer buys an iPhone in the U.S., he or she would find a tiny note on the lower back of the widely popular device that reads: "Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China."

The fact that the iPhone was made in China doesn't seem to bother millions of its users in the U.S. But for China-made cars, it's a different story, let alone cars designed and manufactured by a Chinese company.

"I would probably look at the reviews and safety ratings more than I would for another car," Nick Lowman, a 23-year-old resident of Flagstaff, Arizona, said when asked if he would buy a China-made car.

Lowman, who has lived in China as a student for one year, could not name any Chinese car brand. "What are the big Chinese car brands?" he asked, before adding he "definitely recognizes Geely's logo."

He told the Global Times that he would not be alone in failing to name a Chinese car brand. "I think if you ask someone [in the U.S.] to name a Chinese branded car, they would say Toyota or Hyundai," he said.

Lowman's sentiment over China-made cars - suspicion of their quality and safety levels and lack of knowledge of Chinese car brands - represents the barrage of unnerving difficulties faced by Chinese carmakers that aim to enter the U.S. market.

Ambitious attempts

Such difficulties, however, do not seem to turn many ambitious Chinese carmakers away from attempting to sell their cars in the world's second-largest auto market.

Motivated largely, according to experts, by the notion that entering one of most advanced and competitive markets in the world could boost their global image, Chinese companies have, over the past few years, made extreme efforts to sell cars in the U.S.

One of such efforts by Chinese companies includes increased appearances at auto shows in the U.S. In January, Guangzhou Automobile Group showcased three independently developed models at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, signaling its interest in the U.S. market.

The three models, under the name Trumpchi, whose pronunciation resembles its Chinese name Chuanqi and partially U.S. President Donald Trump's last name, were among the fastest-growing cars in the Chinese market by sales. In 2016, combined sales of the models reached 370,768 units, an increase of 97 percent year-on-year, domestic auto news website autohome.com reported on January 1.

The company reportedly plans to launch its Trumpchi GS4 crossover sometime in 2019.

Other Chinese carmakers that have attended the North America International Auto Show include BYD Company Ltd, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group and Brilliance Auto Group.

However, domestic carmakers' seemingly growing interest in the U.S. has been largely overshadowed by failed attempts to gain a firm position in the U.S. market.

In 2002, Tianjin FAW Xiali Automobile CO made the news when it announced to export its cars to the U.S. market. The company further announced that it was planning to sell 25,000 cars in the next five years, but soon after, the plan was abandoned due to small profit margins and low sales performances, according to media reports.

In 2005, Chery Automobile Co announced it had teamed up with U.S. firm Visionary Vehicles to begin exporting cars to the U.S. market. But by October 2006, Visionary said it had parted ways with Chery, saying the Chinese company's cars didn't meet U.S. standards, according to a report on Caixin Weekly, published on May 22.

Also in 2005, Geely sent 12 cars to be assembled to meet U.S. standards, but they failed to pass emissions test, Caixin Weekly reported. Chery later disputed that its cars had failed the tests, the report said.

'Not ready'

The failed attempts showed that, despite recent success in the domestic market, Chinese automakers were not ready for the U.S. market, a market with some of the toughest competitions and regulations, experts say.

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