Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Volvo Talks Show New Day Dawning for China


As Chinese automaker Geely closes in on completing its purchase of Volvo from Ford, two things strike me; The lack of concern among those in the auto business and the lack of paranoia by those outside the industry.

Could it be we're changing our view of the Chinese auto guys?


And in both cases it shows how far the Chinese have come in closing the real and perceived gaps between their auto makers and others around the world. You may not like, and you may even fear the Chinese, but it is clearer than ever they are catching up in the car game.

For starters, when I talk with auto execs about the expertise the Chinese are gaining, there are few laughs and more candid comments giving the Chinese credit. Take Geely buying Volvo. Two years ago the idea this marriage could work would have been met with plenty of skepticism. Not anymore. As one auto insider put it, "These guys have a decent shot at growing Volvo and not trashing the company." Why? In part it's because Geely execs will likely lean on Volvo veterans and not come in with the misguided notion they know Volvo better than Volvo.

Does this mean Geely will automatically succeed at growing Volvo to a million units sold each year from its current production of 400,000? Of course not. It won't be easy, and Geely may fall well short of that goal.

But unlike three or four years ago, there is less chuckling among car buyers in the U.S. about the Chinese picking up an established brand. And even fewer comments like, "I'd never buy a Chinese car." Some of that is because a Chinese company may buy Volvo, but the brand will still be seen by many as Swedish with a long history in the U.S. But some of it is also because American car buyers are more willing to look at foreign brands.

Let's be clear, I'm well aware many of you still buy Big 3 cars and trucks because the vast majority is made here in the states. I have no problem with that and actually think its great made in the USA still means something to some folks. At the same time, the car business is quickly changing, and the Chinese automakers are coming. What once seemed ludicrous to many now seems reasonable. A Chinese company owning one of the world's leading auto brands.

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