BEIJING - China may be one of the few places where they haven't heard of Republic Industries and H. Wayne Huizenga. But there is little else they don't know about. Actually, the transportation officials would love to have a distribution system in China like the franchise system in North America.
Right now, Volks- wagen is doing a great job of controlling the Chinese car market, which totals only around 400,000 a year. No one has a strong percentage of the much bigger truck and bus business, which is splintered among hundreds of manufacturers.
Both General Motors and Ford seem to be taking the right approach with their strong emphasis on manufacturing parts. Whether anyone in China wants to buy a Buick remains to be seen, but GM's Delphi business is off and running. Marcus Chao, the head of Delphi in China, knows the business and seems ideally suited for the post.
Ford wants in, like a lot of companies, but it hasn't won a car venture yet. Ford has a realistic strategy. Vaughn Koshkarian, president of Ford Motor (China), understands that for the time being, this is a truck market. Ford hopes to penetrate that segment with its new venture to build the Transit. Meanwhile, Ford is developing its parts business.
Whether the car market will evolve into an owner/driver market or continue to be largely chauffeur-driven remains to be seen. But it seems that the opportunity for a small car that could be sold in volume is still decades away.
Chrysler continues its long-term relationship in China; Beijing Jeep is knocking out thousands of Jeep Cherokees and an old Chinese 4x4. Chrysler veteran Andy Okab has been running Beijing Jeep for the last couple of months. You would think that he had been in China most of his life; he's definitely a quick study. The Big 3 are well represented in China.
China still needs a dealer network. Perhaps the influx of entrepreneurs from Hong Kong could be the basis for this missing link in the Chinese automobile business.
But first, the country needs roads. And China is just beginning to eliminate leaded gasoline so it can start to attack air pollution. Today, the air problems are caused mainly by coal and other stationary sources, not motor vehicles. But that's bound to change as the car and truck population increases.
There are still opportunities during the beginning of modernizing this huge and populous country. But it will take a long time and a lot of patience.