First off, I just want to say that even though a glovebox handle broke off in my hand in a sharp fracture of plastic, I think GAC’s line of cars is essentially good enough for the American market. I’m pretty sure that handle thing was an anomaly, or the result of the freakish, uncoordinated strength of my weirdly monkey-like hands.
Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd. (usually just called GAC, which, when pronounced, makes strangers seize you from behind and compress your diaphragm) is by far the most tenacious of the Chinese carmakers when it comes to showing here in Detroit and announcing their intentions to sell cars in America “soon.”
GAC introduced their line of cars with a bold, confident press conference that included a very slick video explaining who they are (a big automaker who sells cars in 19 countries) and all narrated by a guy whose voice sounds like what I imagine a love child of Barry White and George Takei would sound like if it was raised on a diet of smooth molasses and pureéd silk bedsheets.
GAC’s lovely spokeswoman also proudly announced that their cars were “100 percent built and designed in China!” which was a fascinating counterpoint to every other automaker at the show, who have been loudly proclaiming how their cars are made in America all week.
Her proud claim of Chinese origin was met with a slightly confused smattering of applause.
GAC showed four cars, the GA8 sedan, the GS7 mid-sized SUV, an all-electric car called the GE3, and a concept hybrid called the Enspirit. These cars all still had Trumpchi badging, which, you may recall, is GAC’s passenger car brand name that they seem to be backing away from.
We’ve seen Trumpchis here before, and GAC didn’t officially say why they’re seemingly de-emphasizing the name here in the U.S., but one might guess that it’s too close to a combination of the names of the President-elect and a popular Korean side dish.
The big question everyone has about this, of course, is what are the cars like? Are fully Chinese-designed and built cars ready for the American market? I poked around in these cars, looking, squeezing, smelling, and occasionally tasting, and I have some quick thoughts.
According to their flyer, the GA8 is a “Sedan for Middle-Class Elites,” which I suspect won’t be the same tagline they use here in the States. The GA8 actually looks pretty good, in a modern-car-anonymous sort of way. You could walk past one of these in a row of Camrys and Accords and, unless you were a painful car geek like most of our readers are, not bat an eye. That’s good.
The interior of the GA8 is decidedly upmarket. I imagine they brought their most optioned-out version to show and that there’s lesser variants, but at the top end it’s a pretty swank interior.
Quilted seats and door panels, wood (or something that looks like wood) everywhere, big center-stack screens, a console in the middle of the rear seat giving HVAC and other controls to the rear passengers – it’s definitely elite in there.
This car may also, like previous-gen Trumpchis, be based on the old Alfa-Romeo 166 platform. That’s an old platform, but a pretty good one, for what it’s worth.
Things felt and smelled (actually an issue in past Trumpchis that seemed to use adhesives made of mustard gas) quite good. The quality certainly seems acceptable for an American market, and while perhaps not quite up to the standards of Japan or Europe just yet, it’s pretty damn close.
If the price is right, I think this car could compete.
This eight-headlamped mid-sized SUV seems the most likely candidate to come to the U.S. It’s about the same size as a Mitsubishi Outlander or maybe a Jeep Cherokee, and I think it looks a good bit better than both.
GAC is really bringing it to their lighting game; the quad-light units that wrap up and over the front fenders are distinctive and determined-looking, giving the SUV a purposeful and confident face, and I’m really smitten by the taillights which look like magic tunnels if you press your face into them and look into the red infinity.
Technically, the GS7 is said to have a 2-liter turbo four that makes 198 HP, which seems roughly enough for this segment, at least at first.
There’s decent room inside, and even a full-sized spare. There’s a few minor points where things flex a bit more than you’d expect or look a little cheap, but not many. Again, at the right price, this could certainly be good enough to at the very least spell doom for poor Mitsubishi’s SUV lineup.
This all-electric car is set to hit the streets sometime mid-year, so the one I was looking at may be a pre-production model. It’s not a bad-looking car, certainly no worse looking than a similarly-sized electric car like the Nissan Leaf, and it’s actually a bit more daring in its design.
It uses this year’s big design fad, the broken C/D pillar and floating roof look, and punctuates its design with a bit of bright blue plastic jewelry. The faceted front not-grille is a nice touch, and the interior has a nice coherent rounded-rectangle design theme that works well.
The materials quality of this one, though, wasn’t quite as good as the others. I know this from some simple feel testing of the plastics, and the way the glove box handle broke in half when I tried opening the door.
It’s all caught on camera, in the Facebook live feed we did, so if they see that, I guess I should say I’m sorry. I stuck the sharp plastic wedge from the handle in a cubby and bolted from the car. Sorry about that.
This is just a concept car, so it’s useless to talk about how the quality seems, especially since I couldn’t get inside it.
The exterior design, though, I sort of like. It’s incorporating a lot of different things at once: two tone paint, a tall fastback design, big-ass show-car wheels, and a canvas ragtop like a Renault LeCar. It’s a lot happening, but it mostly works. Not amazing, but not terrible.
The interior, at least what I could see through the windows, is quite nice, with extensive and tasteful use of wood. Also, in an important innovation, the Enspirit includes what looks like a little Bonsai tree in between the rear seats, maybe to provide fresh oxygen, maybe to be a source of tiny bits of wood in case you have to repair any nicks in the wood interior. It’s fun.
Overall, I think from what I could see in this very limited exposure, GAC should have a shot at the U.S. market. Of course, I haven’t driven anything, or even heard anything running, but let’s assume everything works.
With that in mind, I suspect the best bet for GAC would be to come into the market the same way the Koreans did back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s: cheaply.
Early Hyundai Excels were crap, but they were cheap crap, and they sold enough here to make them at least somewhat familiar, and all along they kept continually improving and improving their quality. Today, they’re pretty much on par with everybody, and nobody bats an eye when you roll up in a Kia or Hyundai.
I think GAC could pull it off, too. They just need to change some names and get a really good American ad agency behind them. Oh, and get somebody on glove box handle materials testing, pronto.