China’s GAC Preps to Enter U.S. Market in 2019

Last year at the 2017 Detroit auto show, we learned that China’s GAC Motor was serious about its plans to break into the U.S. market. The timeline wasn’t yet set in stone, but with plans to open an American R&D center that year, we had a feeling it wouldn’t take long. Yesterday, we learned that GAC believes it can get here by 2019.

The Enverge electric crossover concept was supposed to be the attention-getter with its wildly futuristic styling, a promised 370-mile range from a 71-kWh battery, wireless charging, butterfly doors, and no side windows. But the Enverge won’t be GAC’s first vehicle in the U.S. That will be the Trumpchi GS8, a three-row crossover SUV.

When the GS8 goes on sale for the 2020 model year, however, don’t expect it to look like the GS8 that GAC had on the show floor. The version we’ll get will be a completely redesigned next-generation GS8 that GAC says will appeal more to American buyers’ tastes. Specs are still undecided at the moment, but we have been told that the 201-hp four-cylinder will be replaced something more powerful. GAC says price points and market positioning are also still undecided.

If past rumors prove true, GAC will partner with Fiat Chrysler to begin selling the GS8, giving it access to a much larger dealer network than it could build on its own in a few years. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne is apparently ready to assist, telling journalists in Detroit, “We are talking to [GAC] about how and if we can help if they come to the U.S.,” The New York Times reports. Once it’s established here, GAC says it plans to slowly add new models to its U.S. lineup. But like the GS8, they’ll all get a redesign before showing up on dealer lots.

But while the current lineup won’t make it to the U.S., the fact that GAC brought quite a few cars to the show did give us the opportunity to get a feel for things like material quality and interior fit and finish. Those things may or may not change after the redesign, but overall, it was a mixed bag.

Panel gaps, for example, weren’t all bad, but some were pretty awful. Some of the buttons and knobs felt solid and well-built, but other switchgear felt cheap and flimsy. With the trim pieces, it was the same story. The plastic “open-pore wood” on what was supposed to be a nicer car felt awful, but some of the aluminum-looking pieces were much higher quality.

Perhaps the most noticeable issue, though, was the sharp contrast between some of the premium materials GAC used as inserts and the hard, cheap plastic right next to them. Some of the quilted leather and faux suede felt pretty nice, especially for a non-luxury car, but the material right next to those pieces was usually bargain-bin plastic.

At the same time, with so much still undecided, it’s hard to be too critical. Yes, the designs are derivative at best, and material quality is inconsistent, but we don’t know how the redesigns will change all of that. Without a big improvement, though, even ultra-cheap prices might not be enough to attract American buyers.

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