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Chinese copycat cars coming to U.S., experts predict

WASHINGTON—Chinese-made knockoffs of competitors' cars, costing 30 percent less but of uncertain reliability, could be in U.S. showrooms in as little as two years.

A videotape of the intended first model, a small wagon, will be shown at the Chicago Auto Show this week.

A panel of auto industry experts who discussed China's automotive future at a Washington conference Tuesday doubt that Visionary Vehicles, the New York-based importer, will make its 2007 target date. But they expect China's automakers to have powerful and rattling effects on the American market and U.S. automakers.

"In the next 10 years, the U.S. automotive industry is going to get turned upside down with what's going on in China," said Jack Perkowski, the chairman and chief executive officer of ASIMCO Technologies Ltd., the largest independent manufacturer of automotive components in China.

Perkowski said China's combination of cheap labor and new plants would force American automakers to cooperate and compete with China in new ways. How well China's vehicles will be built and regulated—and how much technology China can borrow and get away with it—are among the unsettled issues.

For now, Chinese cars aren't much of a threat, said Albert Warner, former director of the Commerce Department's Office of Automotive Affairs.

"To be blunt, Chinese are producing poor-quality cars that don't run well," Warner said.

He said U.S. safety and quality standards could keep Chinese automakers out of the American market for several years.

What China's auto industry will do domestically is another question. In 2003, China surpassed Germany to become the world's third-largest automotive market. Industry leaders predict that China's automotive market could be as big as the U.S. market—the world's biggest—by 2020.

Malcolm Bricklin, the American behind Visionary Vehicles, which are built by Chery Automotive Co., headquartered in Wuhu, China, is a familiar figure. Bricklin also was behind the successful Subaru and dismal Yugo introductions to the United States.

General Motors has sued Chery in China, accusing it of copying the engineering design of its Chevrolet Spark and marketing it as the "QQ." The cars are so similar, panelist Clarence Kwan said, that their doors are interchangeable.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): cadillac+china+OR+gm+china

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): China cars

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