DETROIT - The Motor City will see some proof of the Chinese auto industry's growing ambitions next month when Geely Automobile Co. becomes the first Chinese automaker to have a display at the Detroit auto show.
Geely (pronounced JEE-lee) plans a limited appearance, said John Harmer, vice president of Geely-USA Inc. It will show only one car - a five-passenger sedan called the 7151 CK - in the lobby of Cobo Center, where the North American International Auto Show is held. Geely's display will be up Jan. 8-11, during the show's media preview, but will be gone when the show opens to the public Jan. 14.
"Our presence in Detroit at this show is not to market the automobile. We are coming only to introduce ourselves to the American media," Harmer said.
Still, Geely will get plenty of attention. There will be more than 6,800 journalists from 63 countries at the Detroit show, according to organizers. Of all the auto shows in North America, shows in Detroit and Los Angeles typically get the most media attention, said Michael Robinet, an auto analyst with the consulting firm CSM Worldwide.
"Auto shows are one of the quickest and best ways to increase your exposure because of the volume and the breadth of the media that will be there," Robinet said. "In many respects, the real auto show is during the press days."
Last year, participating automakers spent more than $200 million on their displays at the show.
The fact that Geely will be on the home turf of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. also will cause a stir, since GM and Ford are already losing U.S. market share to rivals from Japan and South Korea.
Harmer said Geely wants to begin limited distribution of a five-passenger sedan in Puerto Rico in the fall of 2007 and in the United States in the fall of 2008. The company brought 12 Geely automobiles to the United States in July to begin testing to make sure they meet U.S. environmental and safety standards.
Harmer said Geely wants to proceed slowly so it doesn't repeat the mistakes of foreign brands such as Peugeot and Yugo, which pulled out of the U.S. market in the early 1990s.
"We are absolutely determined to produce a high-quality vehicle that can be marketed to the American consumer for under $10,000," said Harmer, an attorney and former Washington lobbyist who said he was hired for his expertise in regulatory issues. "We're not trying to barnstorm the American market. We're going to protect the product and the credibility of our name."
Geely expects to sell a little more than 100,000 vehicles in China this year, Harmer said. That's about the same number of vehicles Mitsubishi Motors sold in the United States in the first 11 months of this year. GM sold 4 million in that time. Geely also plans to export 7,000 vehicles this year, mostly to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Harmer said.
Harmer said Geely won't start talking to U.S. dealers for another year.
Detroit auto show co-chairman Richard Genthe said several other Chinese automakers inquired about space at this year's show, but Geely was the only one that committed to a booth. Geely decided to bring the 7151 CK last week, Genthe said.
"We're excited to be the first show in the Western hemisphere to showcase a Chinese vehicle," Genthe said.
Among the Chinese automakers that won't be at the Detroit show is Chery Automobile Co., which is developing five vehicles for the North American market that it hopes will go on sale in 2007. Visionary Vehicles founder Malcolm Bricklin, who plans to sell Chery cars in the United States, said the vehicles aren't ready to show, in part because the interiors are still being finished.
"We're not taking products designed for China and bringing them to America," Bricklin said. "We're creating a completely unique line just for North America."
Chery plans to sell its vehicles for between $19,000 and $25,000.
On the Net:
Geely Automobile Co. Ltd.: http://www.geely.com
North American International Auto Show: http://www.naias.com