In fact, they're already here... but you wouldn't know it just from looking. Japanese automaker Honda has begun importing the subcompact Honda Fit into Canada from Guangqi Honda Automobile Co. Ltd., in China. The move may pave the way for the long-awaited next step: Chinese-made cars from Chinese automakers.
Pundits and prognosticators predicting a Chinese Car-pocalypse have been making like Chicken Little for years now yet the worst fears of North American automakers still haven't been realized – or have they? It seems that the 2012 Honda Fit is typical of how Chinese manufacturers of a host of large and pricey consumer items have dodged the dreaded “Made In China” label while still, in fact, making these items in China.
Like it or not, your new “Japanese” auto was built at the Guangqi Honda Automobile Co., Ltd. factory in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, where the Fit (under the model name “Jazz”) has been made and exported to Europe for at least 5 years. “Honda has a production system that it uses every place in the world,” stated Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com. “Consumers can be pretty confident that the same standards apply.”
It's an updated replay of the old “Japanese Transistor Radio Syndrome” from the 1960s. Back then, anything marked “Made In Japan” was dismissed as cheap, flimsy and poorly made... sound familiar? It took a lot of time, persistent quality control measures and a relentless focus on customer satisfaction for Japanese products to shake their old reputation.
Korean products followed a similar path in the 1980s: remember the awful, oil-smoke spewing Hyundai Pony? Fast forward a generation; the Hyundai Elantra just won the Canadian Car of the Year award at the 2012 Toronto Auto Show.
Undoubtedly Chinese cars will eventually carve out their own claims to fame in years to come but today's consumers just don't feel confident enough to spend their hard-earned bucks on big-ticket, Chinese-made products. By “hiding” them under Honda's banner, however, these items get a free pass to our garages. This somewhat stealthy approach seems to be China Inc.'s strategy these days.
Take Haier Group, for instance – this huge Chinese manufacturer of white goods like washing machines just bought Aqua, formerly Sanyo Electric's washing machine brand in Japan. Japanese consumers and Canadian car-buyers may not notice any difference in quality since various parts and sub-systems have been outsourced to Chinese manufacturers for years.
The next step is obvious: China's big industries will someday shrug off their foreign nameplates because really, that's all they are. Customers will gradually become more comfortable with the idea of Chinese labels once the combination of appealing prices and acceptable quality makes the name game irrelevant. (via Car News China and the Globe and Mail)