"The U.S. is a big auto producer, and it doesn't have enough glass," said Fuyao CEO Cao Dewang during a July 14 interview. "We've gotten repeated requests from our customers in North America to establish a facility here," he said. "They really want us to come."
Flush with cash -- and with the central government's all-important blessing -- Chinese companies have increased their overseas investments sharply during the past couple of years.
According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, Chinese manufacturing companies invested nearly $8.7 billion overseas in 2012, up 23 percent from the previous year. Data for 2013 are not yet available.
Chinese suppliers "are really seriously considering moving to this market and manufacturing over here," said Shusheng Wang, co-director of global business practice at Miller Canfield, a Detroit law firm.
Wang says Miller Canfield has more than 100 Chinese clients, of whom 80 percent are automotive manufacturers. "For the past two years, we've been getting inquiries every week," he said.
Chinese suppliers are setting up shop in North America for several reasons. Factory wages in China are rising 10 percent annually, and shipping costs are high. As a result, components shipped from China to North America no longer command a huge price advantage, formerly dubbed "the China price."
Moreover, automakers are starting to ask key Chinese vendors to be global suppliers -- just like their peers in Japan, North America and Europe.
And China's government has begun encouraging domestic suppliers to invest in overseas factories, according to Wang. "The rules make investment [overseas] easier," he said.
Though there have been a number of major investments this year, the Fuyao deal in January served as a wake-up call for many Chinese suppliers, Wang argues.
In part, that's because Fuyao had the confidence and the cash to build its own plant, rather than buy a North American supplier.
That deal "made a big impression in China," Wang said. "People thought: 'This is what a good supplier does. We need to think about this.'"