SHANGHAI - For China's young and ambitious automakers, the United States is an irresistible new market.
But getting cars there is a daunting challenge. U.S. consumer demands for quality and refinement are higher than in China, and regulatory requirements are tough to meet.
Of course, China didn't become an export powerhouse by giving up. China-made cars will go on sale in the United States, perhaps as early as late 2008.
The first China-made car to be sold here could have a Chrysler group badge. Chrysler has an agreement with Chery Automobile Co. to produce cars for export to the United States in mid-2009.
Here is a roundup of the significant deals in the works to sell Chinese cars in the United States.
In July, Chrysler and Chery announced they would jointly produce a car for the United States. But first, the two will assemble a car for Latin America and eastern Europe. That vehicle, an existing Chery small car called the A1, will carry a Dodge badge.
Chrysler President Tom LaSorda says a different Chery-made car should reach U.S. showrooms in mid-2009.
LaSorda is mum on which model. But sources say a production version of the Dodge Hornet concept is likely to be the first car produced for export to the United States. Chery and Chrysler are doing a feasibility study on the Hornet, say Chery sources. If produced, the car will use a Chery platform and a Chrysler design.
The Hornet is a long-wheelbase, five-passenger hatchback. It has a tall, spacious interior and rear seats that fold flat, like those in Chrysler minivans. The Hornet is wide for a small car.
The North American press gave the Hornet good marks.
The model for the United States would be priced below the Dodge Caliber. Last year, Chery sold 303,671 vehicles in China.
Hebei Zhongxing Automobile Co.
Many questions hang over Zhongxing's plans to produce cars for the United States.
Zhongxing expects to begin exporting a pickup and SUV to Mexico by the end of this year, says General Manager Xiao Wei. He aims to enter the United States by the end of 2008.
Xiao also says construction of a plant in Tijuana, Mexico, should begin in six to eight months. Zhongxing's U.S. distributor - Chamco Auto, of Parsippany, N.J. - says it wants to complete the 150,000-unit-per-year plant in Tijuana by 2009.
But Chamco has not lined up financing for the $300 million plant. Nor has it acquired property or lined up suppliers. In 2006, Zhongxing - a small automaker even by China's standards - sold only 31,342 vehicles in China.
Chamco is working to sign up dealers in the United States and Mexico.
Geely Automobile Holdings Group
In January 2006, Geely Chairman Li Shufu made a splash when he showed one of his inexpensive small cars in the lobby of Cobo Center at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Then, Geely Automobile Holdings Group was talking about starting exports to the United States by the fall of 2008.
A few months later, the company stopped saying that, sobered by the realities of tougher consumer and regulatory requirements than it anticipated.
But Geely still dreams of entering the United States. It is developing two models for export here and is aiming for 2010, says Rick Zhang, spokesman for Geely International Corp.
Last year, Geely sold 204,431 vehicles in China.
Volkswagen is teaming with Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive Co., its joint venture with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., to design and build a small sedan based on the Passat for China and North America.
Details of the plan are limited, and Volkswagen China spokesman Kai Grueber says the needs of the China market come first for the car.
But a Volkswagen-badged, China-made car may be sold in the United States in a few years. Shanghai Volks-
wagen is doing the exterior and interior design.
Oklahoma MG project
A group of Oklahoma investors says it has a deal with Nanjing Automobile Group to build the MG TF coupe from knockdown kits in Ardmore, Okla., in 2008.
Marc Nuttle, the lead investor in Oklahoma, is still negotiating the deal. Nuttle said this year that a prototype coupe is likely to be ready by year end.
About 20,000 coupes would be assembled in Ardmore annually, and another 20,000 MGs with other body styles would be imported, Nuttle said.
He has denied reports from the United Kingdom that the Oklahoma project is dead.
Nanjing last year sold 105,542 passenger and commercial vehicles in China.
You may e-mail Alysha Webb at [email protected]
Namrita Chow in Shanghai, Lan Lan in Beijing and Diana T. Kurylko in New York contributed to this report