GAC Motor delays U.S. entry until 2020

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
The GAC Motor electric concept Entranze gets a reveal at the Detroit auto show.

Detroit — GAC Motor has delayed its introduction to the U.S. market, the Chinese automaker's president Yu Jun said Monday.

At a panel with media following the unveiling of its electric vehicle concept SUV at the North American International Auto Show, Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor Co. said GAC hopes to enter the U.S. market in the first half of 2020.

Last year, the carmaker had said it hoped to start selling to Americans in the fourth quarter of 2019, but trade disputes between the U.S. and China have pushed back those plans, Jun said.

"There are a lot of challenges on this journey," he said. "It is an uphill battle. ... We have overcome so many difficulties already. So GAC Motor is a company that dares to dream and that dares to forge ahead. ... We believe American consumers will enjoy our products."

Last year, President Donald Trump increased tariffs up to 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports over allegations that Beijing steals or pressures companies to give up technology. In response, President Xi Jinping imposed $110 billion levies on American goods. A December agreement postponed further increases.

These challenges have been enough for some automakers to abandon bringing Chinese vehicles to the United States. Ford Motor Co. in August said tariff threats ended its plans to bring the China-built Focus Active to the United States.

Still, Jun said GAC remains committed in its plans to become a global brand since deciding to enter the U.S. market in 2015.

"It has the biggest influence on the global auto market," Jun said of the world's second largest automobile market. "To enter the United States, we can evaluate our own abilities and continue to challenge ourselves and strive for even better product."

Last year, GAC entered Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Jun said its subsidiary in Russia is set up and is expected to begin sales in September.

GAC may not be the only automaker to makes its U.S. debut in 2020. Ford's Chinese partner Zotye Automobile International Co. also is working to introduce product to the U.S. in 2020.

GAC has established its American sales company and is beginning to design vehicles at its three U.S. facilities. The first is a three-row, seven-seat sports utility vehicle GAC unveiled Monday called the Entranze EV.

Although the automaker called it a concept, Wang Qiujing, president of GAC's research and development center, said it will put the Entranze into production in the second half of the year.

Qiujing said the company expects to bring new electric vehicles to market in May, in October and next year. By 2025, GAC says its entire portfolio will be electric.

The Entranze is the first vehicle from its North America design studio in Los Angeles. Designers ditched traditional thinking and worked on the interior and exterior at the same to create a coastal architecture-inspired flow that blurs the indoor and outdoors.

As a result, the Entranze is the "ultimate road trip vehicle," featuring patio-inspired sliding glass doors and a panoramic roof, Executive Design Director Pontus Fontaeus said. Foldable rocker panels serve as steps and also as a bench for outdoor seating. More than 90 percent of the vehicle's interior component are made from environmentally sustainable materials such as cork.

A wave-inspired instrument panel in front of the three-seat first-row bench gives way to OLED screens on both sides instead of a single screen in the middle, though artificial-intelligence voice control seeks to minimize driver distraction.

Fontaeus brought his experience working on Ferraris, Land Rovers and Volvos as well as commercial aircrafts. That is evidenced in the steering wheels with illuminated touch controls around its perimeter. The wheel also works with a heads-up information cluster and voice-command activation.

Another nods to aviation is the storage trolley that slides between the seats when needed.

GAC also is using its "Vision Unlimited" exhibition at the auto show for the first North American appearance of the brand's latest GM6 minivan and to show its new GS5 SUV, which are available in other countries.

Its remaining lineup includes the new GS4 crossover launched in early 2018, luxury SUV GS8, seven-seat minivan GM8, and electric compact crossover GE3.

"These vehicles showcase our commitment to bring U.S. customers our world-class products," Jun said at the show. 

GAC operates in 16 countries. In 2018, it sold more than 535,000 cars globally, a 5.23 percent increase year over year.

Its first appearance at NAIAS was in 2013, and the company has held several global introductions on its stage here.

GAC Motor is preparing to open a new research and development center in March in Farmington Hills. It also has one in Silicon Valley.