The Chinese-built cars are coming. Of that, we can be certain. Everyone expects legions of ultra-cheap subcompacts priced below even the least expensive Japanese, American and Korean cars, ideal for broke-ass Millennials. But the first major China-made car to come to our shores will actually be pretty nice.
That car would be the Volvo S60L, the long-wheelbase version of the Volvo S60 sedan. When it goes on sale in 2015, it will be the first mainstream Chinese-built car for sale in the U.S. (Volvo, in case you've been living under a rock, is still headquartered in Sweden but owned by China's Geely group these days.) Previously, only a few small, obscure specialty vehicles have made their way to the U.S. from China.
While the normal S60 is built in Sweden, the longer version is built in Chengdu, China. And it's a big deal, one analyst told Automotive News:
"The S60L will be a relatively low volume car, [but] its significance can't be overstated," said AutoPacific analyst Ed Kim. Volvo will "use it as a testbed of sorts to ascertain both real world quality of a Chinese-built car in the U.S. and consumer reaction to it."
China's auto industry has made other inroads into Western markets. Canada gets a China-built Honda Fit, and Chery-owned automaker Qoros has been selling cars in Europe for months now. And of course, Chinese components aren't uncommon at all.
The S60L will be America's first real taste of what Chinese manufacturing is capable of, and it will be fascinating to see how it holds up in terms of quality — something their cars certainly aren't known for. I also wonder whether being known as a Chinese-built car will ward off potential customers.
The new Geely-owned Volvo seems to have some exciting things in store for the world after years of waffling under Ford's ownership, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here. We'll see what S60L buyers have to say about it.