DETROIT - China's Geely Automotive Holding Co. plans to begin importing two models into the United States starting in 2008, but executives acknowledge they face hurdles.
"The basic demands are safety, emissions and a service network," says Geely Chairman Li Shufu. "The United States market has higher demands than the Chinese market. What will determine when we start exporting is if can meet those demands."
Geely is showing a mid-sized sedan at the show. A future generation of the model will be the first to be imported, Li says. It will be priced at less than $10,000, he says. The model already is being produced in China.
The second model will be Geely's Beauty Leopard sports car, says John Harmer, COO at Geely USA Inc.
Harmer says Geely will start recruiting dealers in a year and has received inquiries. "We anticipate we can sell 5,000 cars in our first year and 100,000 a year by our fifth year," he says.
Geely sent 12 of the sedans to a testing lab in Virginia last July to determine what modifications need to be made for the United States.
"We were pleasantly surprised we did as well as we did," Harmer says.
The required modifications will all be made by Geely engineers in China, Li says. Geely engineers designed and developed both models, he says.
Chery Automobile Co., whose cars entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin aims to begin importing in 2007, has hired engine expert AVL List GmbH of Austria and Italian design house Bertone, among other foreign firms, to help prepare cars for export.
Geely's Li admits that Chinese engineers don't know enough about American buyers' tastes yet to design a car for this market. That's one reason why the automaker brought its sedan to Detroit.
Says Li: "We are researching consumer tastes here right now."