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Sunday, February 05, 2006


Why Not to Buy a Chinese Car

There's been a lot of talk in the media about automakers in Communist China preparing to enter the North American auto market. Some have suggested that they may be The Next Big Threat to Detroit - and, for that matter, Tokyo, by undercutting prices to levels that nobody can hope to match. I'm not so sure about that. I've blogged here before about the low quality of tools made in Communist China, and if I care anything about the durability or toughness of a tool, I'll go out of my way to buy American-made ones (or Japanese or European ones, but they're often tougher to find).

I can't help but wonder if the Chinese Invasion is going to be a repeat of the last time a Communist country tried to get a toehold in the United States auto market. In a fit of irony, we even have one of the same importers involved this time, Malcom Bricklin. Is this set up to be a repeat of the Yugo?

Well, the January issue of Mechanical Engineering Magazine has a quote that suggests the answer may be yes. They quote Zhao Jie, president of Geely (one of three Chinese auto makers who seem intent on American sales) with the following line:

In a way we are at a similar situation like Toyota 30 years ago and Korean automakers 20 years ago when they tried to enter the North American market. It will take time for us to catch up in quality. Right now we are trying to optimize our production process and quality control.

While I have to give him points for being candid, it certainly sounds like the Chinese cars they have coming over are likely to be lemons. I'm a little bit surprised that they haven't tried to get a bit more practice at building quality cars for their home market and instead decided to try landing here with a product that's not up to the standards American car buyers expect. After all, the American market is not known for being very forgiving, and while Hyundai and Kia did manage to get established here, many other makers who tried in the past two decades failed spectacularly. While Yugo seems to be the most obvious comparison, other names that come to mind are Daewoo and Diahatsu, who also tried to get in with inexpensive cars that they couldn't sell.

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