China makes just about everything we use, but cars have not been on the list given the high cost of entry. Extensive crash worthiness and strict emissions controls see to that. And indeed, both the Japanese and Koreans were in the U.S. market for years before they got established.
But by the end of the year, one Chinese manufacturer plans to sell an entry-level SUV and pickup truck through Chamco (China America Cooperative Automotive, Inc.), a New Jersey distributor and engineering firm. And next year, the Hunan Changfeng Motor Co., Ltd., Group promises to introduce an entry-level SUV Liebao CS6, the Liebao CS7 small four-door sedan and Kylin small minivan.
Both companies made their announcements at the Detroit Auto Show this week, where they could get maximum visibility for their intentions in North America.
Changfeng Chairman Li Jianxin was vague about exactly when the company would start selling or a potential dealer network.
“Changfeng looks forward to bringing the spirit of the Beijing Olympic Games, 'One World, One Dream' to our future participation in the North American market,” said Li Jianxin. Clearly, Changfeng will compete mostly on price although with the SUV, it does push the performance envelope in its brochures although a bit gets lost in translation: “Gene to be wild. VM engine brings you the long awaited shock.”
Pricing was not announced, but its four-cylinder gas and diesel engines promise 30 MPG. Bosch is a key Changfeng partner and much of Changfeng’s technology comes from Mitsubishi Motor Corp., with whom it has partnered on the Liebao Feiteng and the Pajero iO, which is sold only in China. And if you’re wondering how far Changfeng has come in the past 50 years, consider this: It was founded in 1950 as a 7319 factory of The People’s Liberation Army.
Chamco is taking a different path, partnering with ZXAuto, a Chinese auto manufacturer. Chamco COO Tom Del Franco compared its approach to bringing Chinese automobiles to the U.S. to the way auto importing legend Max Hoffman first introduced German cars to America in the 1950s.
“Max Hoffman brought Mercedes in through Studebaker,” he said.
Chamco is much more open than Changfeng about its plans. It wants to sign 150 dealers in the U.S this year, 24 in Mexico and 50 in Canada. He won’t say how many dealers are signed at this point, but says most spots are filled.
And he takes no offense if you tell him his two vehicles are nothing fancy.
“Our technology would not compete against the German, Japanese and Americans, but they are tried and true,” he said. Sitting in them reminded this reporter of what of a Toyota truck or SUV would have been like 20 years ago. They are basic and clean all with the same 150-hp four-cylinder engine. But they will sell for between $16-20,000 – much less than comparable Toyotas today. Price will be the appeal to first-time and second-car buyers, Del Franco said.
Currently, the two vehicles – the SUV is the Landmark in China and the pickup is the Grand Tiger – will be renamed for the U.S. market. They are undergoing “homologation” by Steve Saleen, who is well-known for modifying high-performance cars. Homologation is the process of readying vehicles for the American market, which has strict crash and emission requirements.