Although they have only existed since 1997, Guangzhou Automotive Group Co. (GAC) has climbed the ranks to become China’s sixth-largest automaker, with 740,000 units sold last year. Most of these were Honda-branded vehicles built through an agreement with the Japanese company, as well as the Everus brand, which are basically rebadged Hondas. The Chinese automaker will now be making its first appearance at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show in January.
GAC hasn’t said exactly which cars it willl be bringing, but there probably won’t be many of them. In addition to their Honda models, GAC also has agreements with Mitsubishi, Fiat and Toyota, but all of these are obviously brands which already exist in the US. GAC owns a controlling share of the SUV maker Gonow, and they have their own SUV too, badged as the Trumpchi GS5. But it is likely the only vehicle that will actually make it to Detroit is the Trumpchi Sedan, a rather inelegantly-named rebadging of the Alfa Romeo 166. The Sedan will likely be cheap, but a Chinese-built copy of an obsolete Italian car really ought to be.
GAC isn’t the first Chinese automaker to show up at the Detroit Auto Show. Since 2007, Changfeng, BYD, Chamco, Geely and Brilliance have all made appearances. The continued absence of such brands on American roads in any significant numbers is a pretty good indicator of the inability of Chinese brands to make any real inroads to the North American market. But as unappealing a name as the Trumpchi Sedan has, the Alfa Romeo 166 which it is based on was not at all a bad car. Though it was dropped from Alfa’s lineup in 2007, the 166 was highly praised by the European automotive press, and the Trumpchi Sedan is the closest the US will get to the opportunity to drive one.
GAC’s Trumpchi brand is gearing up for a big year of exports in 2013 though, and is entering markets in Eastern Europe, The Middle East, South America and Southeast Asia for the first time. This is yet another indicator that the car will probably be very cheap, but cheapness alone hasn’t historically sold a lot of cars in the US. The success or failure of the Trumpchi brand in the US will likely hinge not on the price of their car, but on how well the 166’s excellent driving dynamics have translated into the GAC version.