Chinese Automakers Eye U.S. Market

Four Chinese automakers displayed cars at the 2008 Detroit auto show, and while none of these models are available in the U.S. now, three of the companies said they plan to have cars for sale here in the future. We’ll believe it when we see them, but here’s a rundown on each company:


Key facts: Created in 1995, BYD is a battery maker that specializes in nickel-cadmium and lithium-ion batteries. The company employs 120,000 people, and it entered the car business in 2003 through an acquisition.

Car looks like: The F6 DM resembles a Kia Optima on the outside and a previous-generation Honda Accord on the inside. The front of the F8 sports car bears a striking resemblance to the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadster.

Chances of making it to the U.S.: BYD Auto hopes to begin selling its F6 DM plug-in hybrid in the U.S. in three to five years. BYD America vice president Micheal Austin says the car will be priced between $20,000 and $30,000 when it goes on sale in the U.S.

Chamco Auto

Key facts: Chamco isn't a manufacturer, it’s a distribution company based in the U.S. that’s formed a partnership with Hebei Zhongxing Automobile Company to import vehicles to the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Chinese automaker's SUV and pickup are already sold in 52 countries.

Car looks like: The SUV resembles Mitsubishi's now-discontinued Montero Sport, and the pickup truck looks like a previous generation of the crew cab Nissan Frontier. Brand and model names for the U.S. versions of these models haven’t been decided.

Chances of making it to the U.S.:
Chamco intends to begin importing the SUV and pickup truck by the end of this year. Chamco’s director of dealer development, Michael Ross, says it will price the vehicles 20% less than competitors' offerings. In late 2009, Chamco plans to import a Chinese-made sedan and crossover.

Changfeng Motor

Key facts:
This is a subsidiary of the Changfeng Company, which is operated by the Hunan provincial government. The Changfeng Company employs more than 6,300 people.

Car looks like:
The SUVs that could serve as its first U.S. models -- the Liebao CS6 and Liebao CS7 -- resemble the Lexus GX 470 and a shrunken version of the Hyundai Santa Fe, respectively.

Chances of making it to the U.S.:
Changfeng says it hopes to start selling cars in the U.S. next year. If the cars are going to be competitive, however, their interior quality needs to be raised significantly. The SUVs' cabins were unimpressive and emitted a heavy chemical smell that made me nauseous after only a few minutes inside.


Key facts:
Established in 1986, Geely Holding Group is a private company that employs about 8,000 people. It began producing cars in 1997.

Car looks like:
The FC resembles an enlarged Toyota Corolla, while the TX4 is a Chinese-made edition of the classic London taxi.

Chances of making it to the U.S.:
It's unclear what the company's plans are; when questioned on when it might have cars for sale in the U.S., Geely wouldn't commit to any time frame.

2008 Detroit Auto Show

Senior Editor Mike Hanley is a father of three boys; he reviews new cars, admires classic cars and has embraced the minivan lifestyle.  Email Mike