Truck Tech

Hints of a Hyper-Competitive Future

April 4, 2017

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Can Chinese-made SUVs like this one eventually find a following in the U.S.? Photo: Bisu Motors
Can Chinese-made SUVs like this one eventually find a following in the U.S.? Photo: Bisu Motors

If you follow me on Twitter (and you should @By_JackRoberts), then you’d know I was out of the country last week attending a wedding in Scotland. Once the nuptials were out of the way, we flew to Dublin for a couple of days, and last Friday found us down in a small, picturesque fishing village doing some hiking and sightseeing. And while we were in this little village – called Howth, by the way, and highly recommended – I encountered a sort of professional milestone.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve paid special attention to the cars and trucks around me wherever I go. (It’s a fortuitous trait for an aspiring trucking/automotive journalist to possess.)

I was an Air Force brat, growing up. So we lived in and visited a lot of different parts of the U.S. and the world when I was a kid. I was endlessly fascinated by the different vehicles we saw in each locale. And I’m still that way today.

Which leads us to last week when we’d just gotten into Howth. My girlfriend was eagerly looking around to find a market to shop in, while I desperately looked for a pub to disappear into so I wouldn’t have to go shopping.

I’d just found a promising establishment and was about to go inside, when a strange-looking SUV idling at the curb caught my eye. It was a mid-size SUV. But what caught me short were its lines – which were odd, to the say the least. It was boxy and kind of clumsy- looking, and clearly something I’d never seen before.

My first thought was that it was a Vauxhall – an English car-builder – although I wasn’t aware of that company building SUVs. The other odd thing was the badge on the front grille. It was a sort of chrome dragon. But the styling was decidedly non-European.

Intrigued, I walked to the rear of the SUV to check the marque, where my suspicion was confirmed: The vehicle was Chinese-made. The first-ever Chinese-built vehicle I’ve ever seen on a public road. (I was also interested to note it was an Uber vehicle – but that’s a topic for another day.)

It’s too soon to know if this is the start of the next great import wave that automotive experts have been predicting for the past decade or so. In all likelihood, we’re not quite there, yet. There are, apparently, quality issues with the current crop of Chinese vehicles – although the learning curve established by the Japanese and Korean automakers proves this isn’t an insurmountable obstacle. And I have doubts Americans will take a liking to brand names like Shaanxi, Shuanghuan or Zhongxing – much less keep track of which one is which when you’re dealing with Shuanghuan and Shuguang – those are problems any good marketing firm can sort out. And it’s not like Americans haven’t gotten used to strange-sounding company names before.

More to the point, if the past five years or so in trucking alone have taught us anything, it is that virtually nothing is impossible given the rate of change and innovation taking place in the automotive sector today.

The Chinese will get to the point where they can sell vehicles here in the States. And there are always people who prefer a more affordable vehicle over a pricey one and are willing to put up with a few quality issues in return.

So, it is reasonable to assume that in the next decade or so, Chinese automakers will establish a toehold here in the States. After that, it’ll be a case of innovation and new ideas – as has always been the case.

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Author Bio

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Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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