Volvo dealers don't know whether a sale of the brand to China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group means they'll get an opportunity to sell inexpensive Chinese cars in the United States.
But it "sounds appealing," says Mark O'Steen, owner of O'Steen Volvo in Jacksonville, Fla. "I'll try anything. It is just another niche that we don't cover, and hopefully they do have some potential in the United States."
On Dec. 23, Ford Motor Co. said it expected to close a deal to sell its Volvo unit to Geely in the second quarter. Like other Chinese brands, Geely eventually wants to sell cars in the United States. To do that, it needs a distribution channel, which the Swedish brand could provide.
Donald Latham, owner of Parkway Volvo in Wilmington, N.C., says he'd "be receptive" if Volvo dealers were offered a Geely franchise. The caveat is the Chinese-made vehicles would have to be less expensive than the ones he sells. Latham also has Subaru and Hyundai stores.
And with the economic slump, Latham says, he would have to know that the franchise would be profitable. A final concern is quality. But Latham is confident that by the time Geely offers cars here, "the quality would be there."
Other dealers say they don't know much about Geely-made vehicles and are leery whether the deal to sell Volvo ultimately will be completed.
"Until this deal goes down, I'm not even thinking about selling a Geely car," says Mike DiChristofano, vice president of Volvo of Tucson in Arizona. "With these deals -- look at what happened with Saab -- it's all pure speculation until it happens."
Dan Leahy, general manager of two stores in Massachusetts -- Boston Volvo and Volvo Village of Norwell -- says he's "totally ignorant of the product other than I know it's a Chinese car that sells inexpensively."
"I do not know if it's a product that would be receptive in the marketplace that I operate in," Leahy says.
Michael Levitan, COO of Long Island Automotive Group in Amityville, N.Y., which owns Volvoville in Huntington, N.Y., says many questions about the Ford-Geely deal remain unanswered. "But if I were offered another franchise, I would explore the possibility," Levitan says. "There are no Chinese brands in the United States right now. There were no Korean brands, either. I have to assume one day they would be in the market."
A Geely spokesman declined to comment.
Lin Huaibin, a Shanghai-based analyst at Global Insight, said that given the existing quality of Geely's models and the high U.S. safety and emissions standards, it will take the company about five years to build products of its own brand that are good enough for the United States.
Yang Jian contributed to this report