Yale Zhang, the head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, called the export of the Buick Envision SUV from China to the U.S. a “landmark.”
“It means that China’s manufacturing quality has met the requirements of the world’s strictest market,” he said.
GM introduced the Buick Envision SUV in China last October. Since then, it has been one of the best-selling cars sold by GM in the country. According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, a government-backed industry group, the Envision ranked seventh in China’s fast-growing SUV market in October, with monthly sales of 17,300 vehicles. Data from Automotive Foresight show that sales of Buick Envision SUVs totaled 100,826 cars in the period from January to September.
Despite the progress, experts say that Chinese home-grown car manufacturers will continue struggling to compete with foreign brands, even in China.
China is already the world’s largest market for cars in terms of sales and production. But global auto makers have been slow to ship Chinese vehicles to the U.S. and Europe on worries that Western buyers would shun them over quality concerns. European car maker Volvo Car Corp., which is owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., was the first to challenge that assumption when it started shipping sedans from a plant in China to the U.S. this spring. A Volvo China spokesman declined to disclose how many Chinese-made Volvos have been shipped to the U.S., saying only that it is a “small volume.”
A study released by automotive industry consultants J.D. Power in October shows that although Chinese car makers have been improving in quality in recent years, they still lag behind international brands in producing reliable vehicles. According to the study, Chinese brands had 120 problems for every 100 vehicles this year, compared with 131 in 2014 and 155 in 2013. International brands had 98 problems for every 100 vehicles in 2015.
“Buick is a household brand in the U.S.,” said Ms. Li from Deren Electronic. “American consumers are probably not aware that the car is made in China. But Chinese local auto brands, like Chery and Geely, are little known outside of China.” Victor Yang, a spokesman for Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., said that as a global player, it’s normal for GM to sell its China-made cars at home in the U.S. “All the cars made by foreign companies in China should be produced in line with their global standards,” Mr. Yang said.
“Geely aims to sell its cars to developed markets including the U.S. By doing so, our quality and technology will be well recognized,” he said, without specifying a time frame. Jin Yibo, a vice president for Chery Automobile, said that Chinese home-grown auto makers “will absolutely go to the U.S. and other developed markets to sell their cars.”
But he cautioned: “It will take time.”