A wolf in sheep's clothing

Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of <i>Automotive News</i>.
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A lot of people have assumed that sooner or later, we will see a barrage of new cars and trucks made in China. These vehicles, as the thinking goes, will have Chinese brand names and will be sold in new franchised dealerships.

A far more plausible scenario, though, is that we will see a lot of China-built cars sold throughout the United States, but not with Chinese brand names or in new dealerships.

Those cars will show up with familiar names and will be sold by existing brands that simply have one or more models built in China. When a consumer buys a Volvo, for example, he or she may never know that the car came from China.

One point that international brands have always made is that few customers really know where a particular car or truck is sourced. So if a marque happens to have a car built in Mexico, Canada or maybe even China, the consumer might not notice or care.

It is going to get even more confusing and difficult to know for certain where a vehicle is manufactured. A German-brand car might not be built in Germany anymore. It might be built in the United States or Eastern Europe.

So we shouldn't be surprised when we discover in the not-too-distant future that a car was built in China.

Chances are pretty good that when that happens, the vehicle will meet the brand's quality and reliability standards.

My best estimate is that not many people will care about a vehicle's country of origin. I don't think they care today. But the brand will have to support what the car is all about.

When Honda started building the Accord in the United States, the car was sold side by side with the Japan-produced Accord. Most customers didn't care where the vehicle was made. Today, no one cares that all U.S. market Accords are assembled in Marysville, Ohio.

Cars from China are coming, but we won't know it. And dealers hoping to get the next big franchise will be disappointed.

It will take quite a bit longer before we see Chinese brands here.

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