Chinese trucks lure dealers
Chamco wants to be first to import to U.S.
January 12, 2007
BY JUSTIN HYDE
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Tucked away in a ballroom at General Motors Corp.'s headquarters was a one-company, two-vehicle auto show offering a new proposition to potential dealers: Sign up now for the chance to sell trucks from China.
The China America Cooperative Automotive Inc., or Chamco Auto, aims to start imports of a compact SUV and a four-door pickup from China to the United States by mid-2008, both with a price tag of $13,250. Unlike Changfeng Auto Group, the Chinese manufacturer displaying cars at the Detroit auto show, Chamco Auto is a New Jersey-based marketing group with a contract to import models from Zhongxing Automobile Co. in China.
Bill Pollack, Chamco's chairman, said the company was taking a careful approach -- capping the number of Chamco dealers, conducting safety tests and modifying the Zhongxing models with American touches such as larger cup holders -- to ensure that a "made in China" label doesn't create a negative connotation among U.S. car buyers.
"We know we'll have people come after us," Pollack said. "We're not going to give them the opportunity."
Zhongxing already exports its vehicles to 40 countries, and Pollack said Chamco would import the two models to Mexico starting later this year as a sort of extended durability test. Chamco executives ran their first crash tests on the two models a few months ago, and Pollack said work was under way to make the models meet all federal crash and environmental standards to earn Chinese export licenses.
"China is taking a broad view of the auto industry," Pollack said. "It's not going to allow a single company with poor quality to ruin the rest."
Once the vehicles can be imported, Chamco aims to sell about 75,000 in the first year and 200,000 the next. In addition to the two trucks, Chamco plans to add a crossover and a sedan to its lineup after its launch.
Pollack and Veechwin Li, the company's chief executive, said about 20 of the company's planned 150 dealers had been approved, with many more in talks. As part of their agreement, dealers are granted stakes in Chamco.