When investors ask me how soon Chinese automakers will come to America, I think back to my first brush with Chinese strategy.
In 1986, I learned to play Go, the Chinese board game, at the dormitory at Chongqing University. The object of Go is to control territory. The game requires great patience and endurance. Champion Go players often win by lulling their opponents into a false sense of security.
China in 1986 was a slow-moving and sleepy place. The Beijing Jeep joint venture assembled a few thousand Cherokees from knockdown kits imported from Toledo, Ohio. Workers and their families came to the plant to take hot showers. Every Beijing Jeep manager's office featured a cot for the ritual afternoon nap.
The Cherokees that rolled slowly off the assembly line were for official government use only — private car ownership wasn't permitted. No one had the money anyway because incomes averaged less than $300 a year. It was almost pure communism.
Then, there was no hint of the coming China economic miracle. But just 20 years later, China surpassed the U.S. as the world's No. 1 vehicle producer.
Over the years, Chinese auto companies sought out and secured billions of dollars in investments from their global joint venture partners like General Motors and Volkswagen. Technology, too.
It was a stunning transformation, really. But there was no single startling event to wake the senses along the way. China had become king of the hill in car output before anyone knew it.
A masterful game of Go.
Today, we are witnessing a new round of Go, this time taking shape in America.
"When are the Chinese coming to America?"
That question is already out of date.