In feng shui, "Chi" is the universal energy field that surrounds each of us. "Trump" is a wealthy buffoon who, by all appearances, is the product of an intimate encounter between a Connecticut WASP and an errant Homo erectus. The "Trumpchi," is a car by Chinese automaker GAC. Got it? Not yet, you don't.
You see, the Trumpchi isn't your typical Chinese import cipher, seemingly rolled out of the mid-1980s into the Detroit Auto Show for our amusement and edification. It's a reworked Alfa Romeo 166. If your first response is "get the fuck out of here," you're right. And I will. Just as soon as I tell you about the Guangzhou Automotive Group Trumpchi Sedan. Did I mention it's based on an Italian car last sold in Italy in 2007?
What could possibly go wrong.
Remember this: Chinese carmakers have been reluctant to show their wares here in Detroit ever since The Great Leap Sideways, also known as the Hysterical Laughfest At Chinese Automakers' Expense Of 2006.
That year, I returned home from the show with a tea set in a little wooden box. A tea set. All I had to do was sit in a Geely (or was that a Chery?) and inhale the pungent aromatic hydrocarbons of the Chinese adhesives, then grab my neck with both hands and pretend to asphyxiate while my colleagues looked on, chuckling. And they gave me a freaking tea set. The PR girl bowed slightly, presenting it to me as if it were a treasured heirloom and I an honored guest. I almost cried.
It was a year of strange, partly-formed cars with crooked badges and signs and speeches with ill-translated marketing messages. It was the year Changfeng Motors showed off its Black Giant SUV, proudly proclaiming in a video that, "strong power drives its mighty body!" and then Changfeng's Chairman Li took to the stage and announced — to a massive crowd of international media — "I am going to come all over you." He probably meant Changfeng would soon be everywhere in America, but he couldn't have gotten the phrasing more hilariously wrong if Adam Reed wrote his dialog for him.
Since then, most Chinese automakers have kept clear of the Detroit Auto Show, mainly appearing to show off electric cars and do weird stuff like taking Matt Hardigree on an insane ride around the Cobo basement.
For 2013, only one Chinese company showed up. That was Guangzhou Automotive Group (tag line: "Detailing Greatness"), tucked away on the concourse off the main floor. GAC, China's sixth-largest automaker, is known mainly as a maker of Honda products for the Chinese market. In 2010, it launched the Trumpchi, a luxury-ish sedan whose appeal to the Chinese middle class is mainly a function of its presumed domestically branded status. Will they bring it here? Perhaps. Will you be able to get an Alfa 166 for Chinese-car money?
The Alfa Romeo 166 was a good car. Jeremy Clarkson explained its allure colorfully back in 2007, when he gushed, "It's as though the 166 came down a pipeline from the gods." Imagine looking under the hood of the car you bought for the price of a Chevy Malibu and seeing those delicious chrome intake runners of an Alfa Romeo 3.2-liter V6. Oh the joy that would bring.
The vehicles GAC showed here in Detroit were hybrids with gear from AC Propulsion of San Dimas, California. The Trumpchi Hybrid, which looks very little like a 166, can travel 62 miles on electric power. C'mon. Isn't buying a hybrid Alfa Romeo like dating a supermodel with narcolepsy?
But wait. Among its many features are Tweeter and Sackbut, which is not a 1960s novelty country music duo from Hee Haw. Actually, I have no idea what those things are, but they must be important, because they're listed right near Rear Children Lock. No doubt, children lockdown is something all parents can get behind, at least after the kids scarf down six packs of gummi worms and a juice box.
And before you ask, the answer is yes, the Trumpchi Hybrid does come with ATA and IMMO, which — strangely enough — was a 1960s novelty country music duo from Hee Haw.
No. GAC also has a hybrid SUV, the GS5-BEV. That's not exciting. But there's also the E-Jet concept, a very sleek looking sedan that wouldn't be out of place on Acura's turntable. Sadly, that will ride on a new, compact-car platform, and not on an aging Italian-car platform. After all, it's no Dodge Dart.