Yesterday I wrote a post about the introduction by GM of a new Buick Regal GS, that seemed odd to me, since it had a 4 banger with a 6 speed manual tranny. [yesterday’s post here] This one comment drew my attention when I read it this morning:

Who cares what kind of badge it has? The problem is, I think they’re making them in China, which is a nice kick to the groin of American workers, and will prevent me from ever owning one.

Buick LaCrosses are in fact being built in China, sort of. It seems that the main body is made in the U.S. and shipped to a GM partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group. The interior is different inside and reflects the taste of the younger Chinese buyer. At FastCompany it states this:

Joe Qiu doesn’t own a car. He doesn’t even have a driver’s license. His favorite vehicle, actually, is a go-kart with a top speed of 75 miles per hour.

At 31, Qiu still lives with his parents. But he spends much of his time drinking in the vibes at the expensive high-end clubs, over-the-top shopping malls, and elegant, luxurious hotels where Shanghai’s burgeoning middle class gathers.

Qiu is, in fact, a car designer. He works for the largest automaker in the world, General Motors, at its outpost in Shanghai’s Pudong suburb. Two years ago, he was part of a team that radically overhauled the Buick LaCrosse for the Chinese market. The original LaCrosse had a soft, rounded exterior and a plain-vanilla interior, meant to appeal to the brand’s aging U.S. consumers. But Qiu and his boss James Shyr, an intense, fast-talking Chinese-American who learned his trade at Nissan and Toyota, knew Chinese consumers would sneer at such frumpy wheels. “Our buyers are 36 and 37, half the age of buyers in the U.S. and much more discerning,” Shyr says.

I loved this statement because it is exactly what I said yesterday. Buick is an old folks’ car:

The original LaCrosse had a soft, rounded exterior and a plain-vanilla interior, meant to appeal to the brand’s aging U.S. consumers.

There is also this:

The redesign was pitch perfect, so well targeted that the Chinese LaCrosse is on track to sell nearly 110,000 units in its second year in production. (In the United States, the LaCrosse isn’t expected to approach the 100,000-unit mark, ever.) Now, with that success still fresh, Qiu and the China design team face a critical test. They will design the next Buick LaCrosse, due out at the end of the decade, for the entire world.

It’s a mind-bending phenomenon. After an intense internal competition that pitted Shyr and his team against their U.S. counterparts, they will have complete authority over the interior design–driven by Qiu’s insights. The exterior is being handled in the United States, but with a great deal of input from China. And China will control much of the overall logistics.

There’s a carload of irony here. It used to be that GM would send American versions of cars around the globe–sometimes even selling left-hand drive cars in right-hand countries like Japan. What worked in America, it thought, would work globally. Now the automaker, with 50% of its sales coming from outside the United States and the Chinese market growing fastest of all, is betting that a Chinese sensibility will best inform a car for Americans, and everyone else.

Chinese Buick with added ‘bling’.

So it seems that GM may be having more success selling its cars in China than it has here in the U.S. I personally see nothing wrong with this idea as long as GM makes money. But there are some questions that will need to be answered in the future. How long will GM be able to build cars here in the U.S., before China puts a stop to it? What I mean is, how long will it be before China will want the U.S. cars built entirely in China?

Isn’t this what the U.S. has demanded of the Japanese and South Korean car companies: Build the cars here in the U.S. or we will restrict our imports of your cars? My understanding is that this was another of the U.S. car companies’ cries to Congress of why they couldn’t compete. The foreign car companies were building cars cheaper because they paid their employees less.

We later learned that the U.S. car companies were mismanaging the company, that the UAW received very lucrative contracts, and the house of cards fell on us U.S. taxpayers to fix.

Comments welcome.