Rubin: Cars from China, grumbles from the Internet

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The first Chinese-built car from the Detroit Three is on display at Cobo Center.

“China is communist and their wages are below U.S. poverty level — this is a U.S. disgrace.”

Some commenters at are not entirely supportive.

“It’s a shame our government didn’t tell GM to go borrow the money from China in 2009 when they were broke.”

One carefully considered school of thought holds that to teach General Motors a lesson, nobody should buy the Buick Envision.


Sam Slaughter has a somewhat different idea: Everybody should buy one. Or anyway, people should buy every one that’s available.

Granted, he’s a Buick dealer, which somewhat skews his perspective. But China isn’t going away and its cars aren’t, either, so hear him out.

Buick has one of the more intriguing exhibits at the North American International Auto Show, which runs through Sunday and should be bustling on this fine federal holiday.

The Avista concept dazzled both Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne and three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves. The next-generation LaCrosse is lower and sleeker than the current model and shed 300 pounds and its front blind spot problem.

The elegant $33,990 Cascada, due in showrooms next month, becomes the only domestic convertible with front-wheel drive. And then there’s the crossover Envision, nestled size-wise, if not alphabetically, between the Encore and the Enclave.

It’s unlike the other Chinese-built cars we’ve seen over the years at the auto show in that it was designed in the U.S.

Also, the doors fit and it doesn’t smell like rubber cement.

Pickier than us

China has certain image problems with American consumers. We tend not to like brutal totalitarian governments, for instance, and we object to tainted toothpaste and poisoned dog treats.

But what we don’t know about Chinese consumers, says Buick spokesman Nick Richards, is that “they’re more persnickety, more picky, than Americans.”

Among other things, their taste for Buicks kept the nameplate alive when Oldsmobile and Saturn drove off a cliff — and they bought 147,000 Envisions last year.

Richards isn’t saying how many the company hopes to sell here, but people who pay attention to these things are estimating less than a third of that.

“In the volume we’re looking at,” he says, the math didn’t justify retooling a domestic plant to produce the vehicle.

It was cheaper and faster to tweak the Envision for American tastes — we like wood-grain interior trim, for instance, rather than paneling decorated with geometric patterns — and then load it onto ships.

Complaints about its ancestry from the public and questions about it from the media have come largely from the Midwest, Richards says. The coasts don’t much care.

Envision a waiting list

“Today, if you look at any car, it’s hard to say where it’s from,” points out Slaughter, who will chair the auto show next year.

That goes beyond Lincolns from Mexico, Toyotas from Kentucky and Chevrolets from South Korea. Parts come from anywhere with cheap labor and electricity.

Slaughter owns Sellers Buick GMC in Farmington Hills, Bowman Chevrolet in Clarkston and Sellers Subaru in Macomb Township.

He has a waiting list for the Envision at the Buick store, and “I’ll take as many as I can get.”

His hope, and maybe even his expectation, is that it’ll do well enough for us to pilfer the production.

At 40,000 per year, it makes sense to float them here. Double that and maybe it makes sense to build them here.

“Why should I stay loyal to the Big 3 when all it equals to me is Mexico-China-India.”

Either way, they won’t be the last cars we see stamped “Made in China.”

“Keep your Commie car!”

Internet, get ready.