Chinese-Built U.S.-Market Vehicles Exceeding Some Experts’ Expectations for Safety and Quality

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As Chinese-Built vehicles begin to gain a toe-hold in the U.S., assumptions about safety and quality are quickly being proven wrong.

Although Asian-build vehicles are not new to the U.S. market, cars and crossovers built in China are. Volvo began sending some S60 models to the U.S. from China two years ago but has shifted manufacturing to the U.S. for the model. The only other mainstream vehicle sold in America today that is built in China is Buick’s Envision. The Envision’s safety and quality evaluations by third-party experts are making it clear that China’s decades-long efforts to become a world-class automotive manufacturer have proven successful.

The Envision’s first major test was the Institute For Highway Safety’s rigorous evaluations. In its first test in 2016, the new Envision crossover earned the group’s highest rating, the Top Safety Pick Plus designation. The Envision aced every crash test thrown at it and also earned an Advanced rating for its available forward crash prevention system. If there were any questions about Chinese-built vehicle safety, the Envision answered them.

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The Envision has also now been evaluated for quality by J.D. Power and Associates. In the most recent 2018 Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Envision earned the highest score among crossovers its size. The Envision was in fact, the only crossover in its J.D. Power and Associates’ segment to earn five stars for overall initial quality. The runner-up was the Ford Escape, which earned four stars. The Envision topped the Escape in six of eight individual assessment categories.  Consumer Reports also scores the Envision high on almost all key categories for quality. In fifteen out of 17 focus areas the Envision earned a 5/5 quality rating from Consumer Reports. In-car electronics were one trouble area, with a 1/5 rating. Owners report having trouble with GM’s OnStar screen and related electronics.

Interestingly, the Envision is Buick’s highest-ranked vehicle in the J.D. Power IQS ratings. Buick overall scores below average in the brand rankings from the study.

China has long had import duties on automobiles. Just like the U.S. had import tariffs on pickup trucks since the Johnson Administration. Those automakers who wanted to avoid the Chinese import tariff had to partner with a Chinese company. This served two main purposes. First, it established a Chinese auto industry, and second, it brought much-needed manufacturing technology to the country by way of its more advanced partners. Bob Lutz, a former top executive at GM and other automakers seems to have missed the mark on his predictions on Chinese-imported vehicles to America. Lutz said, “If they start coming in, they won’t be any more competent than Korean and Japanese cars,” Lutz said. “They would probably take share from other Asian brands because the vehicles will be more Asian in character. They’re not going to get much market share.” In fact, rather than target Asian vehicle-focused customers, the first Chinese-made crossover went straight for those shopping American. The Envision is now General Motors second-leading Buick model after the Encore, which is also only built outside of the United States.

Prior to the 2018 IQS report, Doug Betts, senior vice president of global automotive practice at J.D. Power and Associates questioned why American buyers would buy a Chinese-built vehicle. “Chinese carmakers intend to come over, but what need will they fill?” said Betts. “What is the reason to buy their cars?” Perhaps a glace at J.D. Power’s own quality awards will help answer that question.

One model certainly does not represent the totality of a country’s manufacturing capabilities. However, the early results show that Chinese-built vehicles headed to America will very likely have equal or better quality and safety compared to those made in North America, Japan, and Korea.