What Foreign Cars Are Selling in China?

Morgan assembly line

While BMW and Audi are battling it out for the top spot in luxo-car sales in China, there are many players in the game. And though carmakers like Cadillac are trying to get in on the action, a quirky English company named Morgan takes a different (as always) approach.

It has gotten inquiries from 20 potential Chinese dealers this year to sell its M3W (above, $39,000), a hand-built car, powered by a 2-liter Harley Davidson motorcycle engine that zaps it to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. This is not a dumb idea. Morgan sells few cars, yet has managed to exist for nearly 100 years. If it sells 50 M3Ws in China next year, it will meet its goal.

Lotus is getting into the act, too, selling out its Asian allotment of new Evora GTEs as 115 customers put down deposits. Lotus has opened a dealership in Beijing, and 13 more are planned by 2012’s end. Alfa Romeo also wants to get into the game, but its prospects aren’t good.

China is a country in which uniqueness sells, and so do luxury cars—the market is projected to climb 39 percent this year. Although the U.S. still leads in luxury sales, the markets here and in Germany and Europe generally are in decline as deep economic uncertainty makes buyers reluctant and skittish.

There is already a 25 percent tax on all vehicles imported into China. On top of that, last week the Chinese government announced tariffs of up to 22 percent on all U.S. vehicles with an engine larger than 2.5 liters.

In September we told the story of how the Chinese held up Volt sales there unless GM agreed to share its technology. Well, to no one’s surprise, both Ford (likely) and GM (definitely) have since caved and agreed to those demands. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) has introduced legislation to stop such technology, developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars, from being transferred abroad.

VW LavidaBeyond the luxury world, the recent top-selling imports in China are, according to Matt’s Blog, the VW Lavida (right), Buick Excelle and Chevrolet Sail. The Chevrolet Cruze came in fifth, with 203,719 cars sold for 2011 (through November).

And the Chinese are stepping up their exports to the rest of the world. The Chinese-built long-wheelbase E-Class Mercedes will follow BMW’s long-wheelbase 5 Series L, most likely to Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

On a recent trip to Uruguay, I saw lots of Cherys and BYDs on the streets of Montevideo. Latin America is definitely getting on board with Chinese cars. How well-made they are is another question. Chinese-made Honda Fits will soon be sold in Canada.

Is this opening of China’s automotive market a good thing for all? Or is the U.S. sometimes giving away the store, as Sen. Webb’s legislation suggests?

—jgoods

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

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1 Comment

  1. As long as the Chinese plants set up good quality systems, they should be pretty good. Main problem is with part suppliers who may cut a few corners. The biggest problem I’ve seen with Chinese goods are those opportunistic manufacturers who “copy” popular products without any regard to the destination country’s enviromental or consumers laws. One way countries like the USA can help is to bar Chinese products that use processes that are illegal here in the USA. Good example from a few years back is Lionel trains versus a new competitor. Seems the new competitor got those smoothy shiny paint jobs in China which Lionel couldn’t match with painting techniques legal here. The competitor managed to drive Lionel out of business and now owns it.

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