Fiat Chrysler hosts Chinese dignitaries in Auburn Hills

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV on Wednesday hosted Chinese dignitaries at its North American headquarters, less than a month after news reports that its auto partner in China wants assistance entering the U.S. market.

The company said Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Asia-Pacific Chief Operating Officer Mike Manley, who also heads Jeep, hosted a Chinese delegation Wednesday led by Hu Chunhua, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee, at the Auburn Hills facility.

The visit, according to the company, “reinforces the strong relationship with the Province of Guangdong,” where the company through its joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group (GAC) started local production of the Jeep Renegade in a new plant in the city of Guangzhou.

Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai and GAC chairman Zhang Fangyou also were in attendance, the company said.

A Fiat Chrysler spokesman said the visit and a meeting “was completely focused on the market in China,” and the possibilities of the automaker helping GAC enter the U.S. “were not discussed.” The company said Hu had the opportunity to view the major products in Jeep’s portfolio for the Chinese market.

Wu Song, general manager of GAC Motor, a brand subsidiary of GAC, in April said the company would like Fiat Chrysler to help it enter the United States. He told Reuters on the sidelines of the Beijing auto show then that, “Chrysler’s development in China required our support. Now for GAC Motor’s development in the U.S. we also hope for Chrysler’s support and help.”

GAC Motor, after displaying at the 2015 Detroit auto show, announced plans to enter the U.S. market by 2017. “As a middle- and high-end Chinese auto brand, GAC Motor will more actively compete in the United States,” the company said at the time.

A company spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Chinese automakers have had difficulties entering the U.S. due to stricter safety and emissions standards as well as other issues, including a lack of a dealership network.

General Motors Co. this year will become the first domestic automaker to import a vehicle produced in China to the U.S., when its Buick Envision crossover beings arriving in the coming weeks.

Manley told The Detroit News in January that Fiat Chrysler had “no plans” to import Jeeps built in China to the U.S.: “That opportunity is there if it’s right for an organization,” he said. “We have no plans to do it.”

Manley also said he believed local Chinese automakers eventually will start selling vehicles in the U.S., declining to speculate when that may occur.

“Ultimately, there will be a Chinese-made, Chinese-branded vehicle in the U.S. — absolutely, no doubt,” he said.

China is an important part of Jeep’s global expansion. Fiat Chrysler plans to produce 2 million Jeeps by 2018. China represents the largest Jeep market outside the U.S.

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