DETROIT -- Chinese-built cars have quietly arrived in North American showrooms for the first time, but not from one of China's scrappy automakers as long anticipated.
Honda Motor Co. has crossed the threshold by exporting the Chinese-made Fit subcompact to Canada, The New York Times reported.
The Japanese automaker's Canadian arm began receiving the Fit from China instead of a Japan factory this month. It's part of a Honda plan to build more vehicles outside of Japan and avoid the punishing effects of the strong yen.
With the change, Honda also aims to wring out more profits in a market segment where margins already are thin.
Other Japanese automakers -- notably Nissan Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. -- also are boosting vehicle production or building factories outside Japan.
"The yen has been getting stronger and stronger," Jerry Chenkin, executive vice president of Honda Canada, told The Times this week. "The exposure of the yen exchange rate is of concern to Honda and other manufacturers."
Honda officials told The Times that new car shoppers are unlikely to notice the change.
The move to import cars from China is expected to be temporary because Honda is building a plant in Mexico to build subcompact vehicles for sale throughout North America.
Honda's $800 million plant in Mexico is scheduled to begin operation in 2014 with an annual capacity of 200,000 units.
The Times said Honda has been exporting the Fit from China to 27 countries, mainly in Europe where it is sold as the Jazz, for about five years.
John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda, told The Times there were no plans to distribute Chinese-made Fits to U.S. dealers.