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China rising in Detroit

Guangzhou's NEV E-Jet concept. (Jeffrey Jablansky)

Guangzhou's NEV E-Jet concept. (Jeffrey Jablansky)

With hundreds of automotive journalists huddled in the lobby of Cobo Center on 15 January, Huang Xiangdong, vice president of Guangzhou Automotive Group (GAC), started the company’s first appearance at the Detroit auto show with a short apology.

“We underestimated”, Huang began, “but this booth’s place is much better than any others, and in a more noticeable location.” Three cheers for silver linings.

GAC, however, needn’t have apologised about its booth, which contained two production models and one concept car. Based in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, GAC has yet to stake out territory in the North American market, but is looking to expand its global presence, according to Huang.

Hardly a fly-by-night upstart, GAC was in Detroit partially to announce the signing of preliminary agreements with the jointly operated Chrysler and Fiat to build their vehicles in China. To add some gravitas, Huang welcomed Jeep president Mike Manley to join him and GAC President Qinghong Zeng during his presentation.

“Our first participation in the Detroit show indicates GAC’s steps toward globalization,” he said.

GAC’s Trumpchi 4WD Hybrid is the first all-wheel-drive hybrid sedan produced by a domestic Chinese brand. The Trumpchi GS5 BEV, a battery-electric SUV, pilfers styling from the Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester to reasonably good effect, while deriving power from a 35-kilowatt-hour battery pack that – via a meaty 18-kilowatt charger – can recharge in approximately two hours. The third vehicle on display, the NEV E-Jet concept, is a sculpted, extended-range hybrid electric sedan with exterior styling that references everything from Ford’s Evos concept to Hyundai’s HCD-14 Genesis, unveiled here on Monday.

The Chinese auto industry has officially exhibited in Detroit since 2005, when Geely, which would later purchase Volvo Cars from Ford, entered the show. Other Chinese companies have presented here, perhaps most memorably in 2008, when BYD granted Matt Hardigree of Jalopnik a ride across the convention centre floor.

But where in past years Chinese manufacturers’ conferences felt like sideshows, even when staged on the main convention-centre floor, Guangzhou’s presence felt like the real thing.

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