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A worker assembles a vehicle at FAW, or First Automobile Works. The joint venture with Volkswagen and its biggest luxury brand, Audi, is a massive complex. (Jeremy Cato for The Globe and Mail)
A worker assembles a vehicle at FAW, or First Automobile Works. The joint venture with Volkswagen and its biggest luxury brand, Audi, is a massive complex. (Jeremy Cato for The Globe and Mail)

The Great Stall of China

When will Chinese auto makers crack the North American market? Add to ...

Here's the question: When will Chinese auto makers begin to make a dent in the North American new car market?

We've certainly seen the promise. Chinese manufacturers from Brilliance to Geely, Great Wall and BYD Auto have displayed vehicles at the Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows. We've seen news releases announcing plans to sell China cars in the near future, too. But nothing in dealer showrooms - in fact, no dealer showrooms at all.

Still, the promises. BYD says its plug-in-hybrid car from China is on track to reach the United States in spring 2012. We'll see. We've seen similar promises before.

In 2006, Brilliance said it would start selling its cars in the United States by 2009. None yet.

In 2006, Nanjing Automobile Group, which bought the assets of the bankrupt MG Rover, said it wanted to be the first Chinese car maker to build vehicles in the United States. Nothing so far.

Geely bought Volvo last year, and before that showed small sedans at the 2006 and 2008 Detroit auto shows. But Geely has not yet certified cars to meet North American safety and emissions standards.

The conclusion: it's one thing for established auto makers to break into the Chinese market with joint ventures. It's quite another for Chinese to crack the ultra-competitive North American market, analysts say.

If Chinese car companies hope to sell in North America, experts say they must first determine which part of the market to attack.

Compact cars? Perhaps, but the competition in small cars here is fierce and profit margins are slim.

Gasoline-electric hybrids?

"Because consumers are wary about electric vehicles and their driving range and batteries, they are even more likely to go with more established companies like GM and Nissan," Mike Omotoso of J.D. Power and Associates told the New York Times.

So far, the Chinese auto industry is growing, but it's not yet exporting to North America and may not for some time yet.

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