HAVE YOU DRIVEN A GEELY LATELY?

What are we going to be driving a few years from now? GM's in bankruptcy, Chrysler is now run by Fiat, and the future seems bleak for the whole U.S. auto industry. So, who'll be king of America's highways – Toyota, Honda... or maybe Geely?

What are we going to be driving a few years from now? GM’s in bankruptcy, Chrysler is now run by Fiat, and the future seems bleak for the whole U.S. auto industry. So, who’ll be king of America’s highways – Toyota, Honda… or maybe Geely?

Gee–who? Geely Automobile. It’s one of China’s largest auto manufacturers. Along with two other Chinese giants – BYD and Chery Automobile – Geely has big designs on the American market. Never heard of ’em? Well, get ready to learn about the new rising power in automobiles.

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Here’s a statistic that might surprise you, as it did me: This year, China is projected to displace Japan as the world’s largest car producer. Indeed, it already tops U.S. carmakers in sales.

As the chairman of Daimler, Germany’s top auto company, bluntly acknowledges, “The center of gravity is moving eastward.” But the East is also moving west. Chinese cars are expected to arrive in the U.S. market just over a year from now, and rumors abound that the Chinese are already kicking the tires of Detroit’s auto companies, with the intention of buying a piece of them, or, at today’s bargain prices, buying out a company.

One reason for the sudden Chinese surge is that its industrial and political leaders have been planning for and investing in the future, while American car honchos were hunkered down in their Hummer strategy. Thus, China’s fuel efficiency standards already exceed the 35-miles-per-gallon average that Obama recently said U.S. cars must meet by 2016. A week after Obama set that goal, Chinese officials upped the ante, saying their vehicles will average 42-miles-a-gallon by 2015.

Meanwhile, China’s BYD company has gotten the jump on the next level of fuel economy. It is now producing a mass-market plug-in electric car – well ahead of the Chevy Volt that GM has been working on. Assuming there’ll be a GM.

“China shifting into gear,” Austin American Statesman,” May 26, 2009.

“China Is Said to Plan Strict Gas Mileage Rules,” www.nytimes.com, May 28, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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