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China wants to enter the U.S. car market, but a rough road lies ahead

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

Germany was first. It shipped the Volkswagen Beetle to the United States in 1949. It got off to a slow start only to be embraced by an enthusiastic American public.

Japan came next, winning U.S. customers in the 1970s with its own mass-market cars. After that, South Korea, offered its Hyundais and Kias.

Now, it's China's turn.

Or is it?

Big, state-controlled Chinese automaker GAC Motor plans to start selling a gas-powered seven-passenger SUV priced around $40,000 in the U.S. next year. The company said more models will follow that vehicle, called the GS8 -- including all-electric cars.

But a rough road lies ahead. Chinese automakers have tried to enter the U.S. market before and failed, crippled by sub-par quality, failure to meet tough U.S. safety standards, lack of consumer awareness and ill-conceived import partnerships.

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"Plans were hopelessly optimistic," said Bill Hampton, editor of AutoBeat Daily.

But GAC says this time is different.

"A few years ago, we were not ready enough to enter the U.S. market with our level of technology, quality and competitiveness," GAC Motor President Yu Jun told The Times via email. But, he said, things have changed: "We are well prepared to face the challenges in the U.S. market."

That's a plausible assertion, said David Sargent, global quality research head for J.D. Power.

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