Get ready to welcome the made-in-China 2016 Volvo S60L as the first mainstream Chinese car to be sold in the US. Surprised to see a Volvo made in China? Don’t be, as the Swedish company was bought by Geely, a Chinese automaker, in 2010.
Essentially a stretched version of the S60 with more rear seat space, the S60L will hit the U.S. next year, although exact timing has yet to be confirmed.
Where are the rest of the Chinese Cars?
“The delay in launching sales of Chinese made vehicles in the United States by Chinese automakers is due to a few fundamental reasons, the main one being that the vehicles are just not ready,” said Namrita Chow, IHS Automotive’s Principal Analyst. “Despite meeting various safety standards the vehicles often do not meet consumer tastes and lack competitive brand awareness.”
Chow pointed to the lack of success of the Geely brand internationally. “Let’s look at the Geely EC7 which received a 4 star crash test rating on the Euro New Car Assessment Program as far back as 2011,” she said. “But so far its sales outside China are falling and it does not currently sell in developed markets in Europe or North America.”
Furthermore, Chinese automakers are struggling in their own market. Chow cited Great Wall as an example.
“The company is selling its models in the United Kingdom where it offers a six-year warranty package to attract buyers,” she said. “But Great Wall has had serious problems in its home market where the much hyped Haval H8 SUV was pulled from the market indefinitely.” If Great Wall struggles making an impression on its local fans in China, Chow said it will have great difficulty making any inroads in the extremely competitive US market.
Do These Ones Count?
One made-in-China car had a brief stint here in the US: the Coda EV. While Coda is an American company, the Coda EV is based on a Chinese car called the Hafei Saibao. The electric batteries too were produced in China, though designed by Coda. However, Coda’s automotive branch filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and only 117 examples of this Chinese based car ever sold.
There’s one more Chinese made car that hit North America, just not the US. Canada saw made-in-China versions of the last generation Honda Fit in their showrooms. Though this arrangement has stopped with the introduction of the third-generation Fit (which is made in Mexico) Canadian press seemed fairly positive about the made-in-China Honda Fit, with no noticeable concerns about build quality.
“The Honda Fit is currently built in China and exported, and this does not face any problems,” said Chow.
Consumers didn’t seem to care either. In fact, Canadian Honda Fit sales grew by 67 percent year-over-year in 2012 to 4,736 units while the China-built Fit was on sale.
“It’s abundantly clear that Canadian consumers had no concern over the Fit’s assembly location,” auto data tracking site Good Car Bad Car founder Timothy Cain said.
The extra availability from the Chinese plant is said to be a key factor in the additional sales. “As supply from the Guangzhou plant improved in 2013, Fit sales improved as well, with no regard given to its origin,” said Cain. “Did people care that the Fit was built in China? Well, Fit buyers clearly didn’t, and there were more Fit buyers last year than in 2010, 2011, or 2012.”
How Will Volvo Fare?
We could see other premium automakers follow in Volvo’s footprints. Luxury brand Infiniti has its global headquarters in Hong Kong, and has mentioned that production in China could start soon. American consumers are actually getting a sampling of the Chinese tastes too, as the automaker will begin offering the made-for-China Infiniti Q70L in the US.