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A sleek, all-electric sports car made in China roars into Motown

January 14, 2013
January 14, 2013

Everyone’s focused on the Corvette at today’s North American International Auto Show. But a sleek sports car from China’s is also getting quite a bit of attention.

“It’s got the wow factor,” said one Detroiter as he checked out the car with a group of friends. They admired the blue-lit grille, the race car seats, and the muscled yet sleek exterior of the E-jet. One of them said it was as impressive as the BMW Z4 roadster on display in the main hall.

The car and two others are electric hybrids on display from GAC Group, a diversified Chinese auto manufacturer formally known as Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd.  It is the company’s first time in Detroit—and it also is the only Chinese automaker in an event packed full of Fords, Hondas, Chryslers and Jaguars among others.

Yet one of the Chinese-built GACs, a white five-seat crossover, would look right at home parked at Northland Mall, just north of Detroit, except for the Chinese words on one side of the back bumper.

The company plans to use “new-energy vehicles to enter developed markets,” GAC Motors Group vice president Xiangdong Huang said.

GAC will reveal some of its plans for a move into the United States at a media briefing tomorrow. Staffers told Quartz they do not have dealerships set up yet, and they hope to start US sales as soon as they clear regulatory hurdles. One of them noted that Guangzhou Automobile already was in Australia. About 25 staffers are in Detroit for the US debut.

Like many first-timers to the sprawling auto show in downtown Detroit, GAC was relegated to a small space the front hallway. The other newbie is VLP Automotive, a California carmaker.

The GAC E-jet had several features that stood out. Instead of side mirrors, the car boasts a tiny camera measuring just about an inch across. The finish to the car had a pearly gloss, and the headlights and tail lights wrapped around stylistically yet brightly. One woman said it looked a bit like the Delorean from Back to the Future.

According to GAC’s spec sheet, the E-jet can travel about 100 kilometers (62 miles) on one electric charge and will go 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour.

GAC staff seemed happy to show off their three cars and pointed out the place in the back seat of the largest, the BEV, for child safety seats. That is the best seller of the models in China, one staffer said. The E-jet is a concept car that will debut in China by around July, another GAC staffer said.

China’s vehicle sales, including buses, could reach 20 million this year, a 5% increase over last year. That compares to an expected 15 million cars and trucks to be sold in the United States in the same time frame, up from 14.3 million last year, analysts estimated.

Some Chinese automakers may not be ready to sell cars in the United States until around 2020 because they need to develop their brands and trust, J.D. Power analyst Jacob George told Reuters.  He said: “By 2018, we do see Chinese automakers becoming roughly equal in quality to global automakers, but …you need to have more than just quality.”

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