WASHINGTON -- DaimlerChrysler AG is interested in making vehicles in China for export, even to North America, said Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche.
"It's definitely one consideration of ours to potentially build vehicles in China, not exclusively for the Chinese market," Zetsche said last week.
Asked about exports to the United States, he said: "I certainly can't exclude that."
Zetsche told reporters he was not hinting at an upcoming announcement but describing the thinking of DaimlerChrysler executives.
Still, most industry leaders have been reluctant to speculate about exports from China. Zetsche's comments reflect the rapid evolution of business models for automakers in China.
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. is preparing to export vehicles from China this year to Europe and other Asian countries. Malcolm Bricklin's Visionary Vehicles LLC is promising to bring vehicles built by Chery Automobile Co. to the United States by 2007.
Zetsche indicated that DaimlerChrysler is positioned to use China as an export platform. The former Chrysler Corp. was an early entrant in China with a joint venture that built Jeeps.
DaimlerChrysler has since lagged other automakers in China, Zetsche said, but is expanding again.
"We have probably the richest product portfolio going forward, the most new launches," he said. "So we would have more opportunities to make decisions of that kind."
It took Japanese companies 20 years to become "serious competitors," Zetsche said, while Koreans did it in 10 years. Perhaps Chinese factories will do it in five years, he said.
Zetsche said he does not believe Americans would stigmatize vehicles imported from China as they might have 10 or 20 years ago.
Zetsche was in Washington last week to help launch the National Anthem Project, an effort to get more Americans to learn "The Star-Spangled Banner." Jeep brand is the lead sponsor of the project, which music teachers organized.
Robert Liberatore, DaimlerChrysler's chief global lobbyist, and Zetsche met with several members of Congress, including Senate leaders of both parties. They also met with one or more Bush administration officials, whom they declined to name.
Zetsche said the Big 3 remain hopeful that the federal government will help ease the burden health care costs impose on companies such as theirs.
But he conceded that policy makers must be concerned first with Americans who lack health insurance.
Automakers have some responsibility to deal with the issue themselves, he added.
Said Zetsche: "I do not expect a solution for our challenge just to come from Washington."
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