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Geely Returns to Detroit But Mum on U.S. Plans

By 2015, the auto maker is targeting global capacity of 1.7 million units and annual sales of 2 million vehicles, with two-thirds coming from export markets.

DETROIT – China’s No.2 best-selling independent domestic auto maker makes its second appearance at the North American International Auto Show here but has little to say about its plans for the U.S. market.

Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., which was the first Chinese auto maker to hold a press conference at the Detroit show in 2006, treats this year’s conference attendees to a glossy marketing video; greetings from Detroit-area and Chinese government officials; and a run through of its product lineup, technologies and manufacturing plans.

Not included in any material, however, is a projected date for U.S. sales.

“We’re not sure Americans (want) us to be here,” Geely Chairman Li Shufu says when asked why the auto maker is mum on a U.S. launch date.

Geely does announce plans for a Mexican plant but declines to provide a timeline for production launch.

The auto maker at the 2006 Detroit show said it expected to begin selling vehicles in the U.S. by the end of this year. However, Geely since has pulled back its plans after determining the U.S. market is not quite ready to embrace Chinese-made vehicles.

Geely is taking steps to improve its image. In November 2006, the auto maker hired away former DaimlerChrysler Corp. engineer Frank Zhao, who joined Geely as a vice president. The auto maker also is putting more effort into developing technologies in order to compete with global OEMs.

One such technology, dubbed BMBS for “blowout monitoring braking systems,” aims to prevent accidents related to a tire blowout by activating the vehicle’s antilock brakes.

“Many don’t believe a Chinese brand is doing innovation work,” Zhao says when asked why Geely chose Detroit to discuss BMBS, which won’t be available in North America any time soon.

The U.S. notwithstanding, Geely’s expansion plans are aggressive. By 2015, the auto maker is targeting global capacity of 1.7 million units and annual sales of 2 million vehicles, with two-thirds coming from export markets. The auto maker expects to reach sales of 1 million units by 2010.

In a booklet available to the media here, Geely lists four existing production facilities (three of which have an annual capacity of 50,000 units) and two plants (Xiangtan Base and Lanzhou Base) in development in China.

Xiangtan has a targeted output of 50,000 units by the end of this year and 200,000 units annually by 2015.

Lanzhou is expected to have initial capacity of 50,000 units per year and eventual output of 100,000 units annually.

Zhao says Geely also has plans for three more plants but does not specify their locations.

Geely vehicles on display here include the FC 1.8L sedan and TX4 London taxi, to be built in China by Geely starting this year for Manganese Bronze Holdings Plc.

A brief evaluation of the FC shows tight-fitting body panels, an improvement over the CK sedan Geely showed in 2006 that had large gaps.

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TAGS: Auto Shows
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