The Qoros 3 sedan has a long wheelbase, short overhangs and a coupe-like silhouette.
GABE NELSON

A brand's coming-out party in Geneva

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Gabe Nelson is a reporter for Automotive News and is based in Washington, D.C.
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GENEVA -- People could argue all day about the most important debut at the Geneva auto show.

Despite the glitz and glamour of models such as the Alfa Romeo 4C, Ferrari LaFerrari, Lamborghini Veneno and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible, the most meaningful debut may have been by an entire brand: Qoros.

The joint Chinese-Israeli brand set up its first auto show stand in Geneva. It showed a compact car, the Qoros 3 Sedan, which is to become Qoros' first offering in Europe. The company says its initial annual capacity is 150,000 units.

At the Qoros stand, the 3 Sedan and other concept cars didn't look anything out of the ordinary, unlike the supercars that drew the biggest crowds.

So why was the brand so important?

Because, as officials from an international automotive group pointed out during a small press conference Wednesday morning in the convention center, China has quickly become the world's leading auto producer.

In 2012, Asia produced 51 percent of the world's cars and trucks, the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, or OICA, said at the press conference. But the share of production coming from Japan has dropped from 16 to 11.8 percent. Despite the recent gains by Hyundai and Kia in markets such as the United States, the share coming from South Korea has dropped too, from 5.5 to 5.4 percent, according to the group's report.

China's output has soared. It was the fourth-largest source of cars and trucks in 2005, trailing the United States, Japan and Germany with an 8.5 percent share of the global market. Last year, that share was 22.8 percent. The growth alone was greater than the total production of the United States, which is now in second place with a 12.2 percent share.

Granted, much of the production has been driven by China's fast-growing demand for cars and trucks, rather than exports to wealthier countries. (As a side note, the country with the most export-focused market is Slovakia, which builds more than 10 cars for every one that its own people buy, OICA President Patrick Blain noted during the press conference.)

But the more cars Chinese companies sell, the more money they have to invest and the more sophisticated their cars get. Considering that Chinese automakers build more than a fifth of the world's cars and trucks, it's hard to imagine them remaining outside the U.S. and European markets for long.

Others have tried and failed, though my colleague Paul McVeigh of Automotive News Europe thinks Qoros, which is jointly owned by Chery Automobile Co. and investment company Israel Corp., may have a shot at breaking in because of its ties to established Western suppliers and designers.

One of the virtues of the Geneva auto show is that it takes place in a famously neutral country, away from the cities of the United States, Germany and Japan that dominated the first century of the automobile.

So it is time to take a neutral view and look at the numbers. They show that China has rapidly become the center of gravity in the global automotive industry, at least in one sense. Big challenges stand in the way, but Chinese automakers could be setting up many more booths in Europe and the United States before you know it.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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