Making cars in China has been used to scare voters and even Chryslerworkers in the presidential campaign's waning days, but the reality isChinese-assembled vehicles will not be exported to the U.S. anytimesoon.
It makes no economic sense for major Western carmakers tobuild there and ship here. China-based automakers have not met thesafety and quality standards to compete here yet, say automakers andanalysts alike.
In addition, the Chinese economy has slowed; thenation's domestic automakers are in survival mode, struggling to makemoney at home with no desire to use precious resources to establishdealers to sell in the U.S.
"The general stance is to build whereyou sell," said Mary Barra, head of global product development forGeneral Motors. "It makes sense from a quality, supply chain and costperspective."
Revered investor Warren Buffet has lost money on his investment in BYD, a Chinese manufacturer of electric cars.
Then there are the political reasons: China is a hotbed of instability right now as it prepares to undergo leadership change.
"Thingson the ground in China are more uncertain today than any time inhistory," said Michael Dunne, author and president of marketing firmDunne and Co. in Hong Kong.
These factors put into question thelogic of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's attempt to link thegovernment rescue of GM and Chrysler to moving American jobs to China.
"BashingChina is an easy card to play," said Andy Serwer, managing editor ofFortune magazine, speaking last week at a global forum on China inDetroit.
There are up to 100 domestic automakers in China, said Dunne.
Theauthor of "American Wheels, Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motorsin China" sees only two Chinese companies remotely close to sellingtheir brands in the U.S.: Great Wall and Geely, which has a footholdbecause of its purchase of Volvo.
Even still, Chinese automakers"are still 5-10 years from selling cars in the U.S.," Dunne said at theFortune Global Forum. "Quality, safety and emissions levels are notthere yet."
Sure, China exports 1 million vehicles a year, butthey are sold in other emerging markets with equally low safetystandards and technology expectations, Dunne said.
MainstreamWestern brands build vehicles in China with Chinese partners, but onlyfor sale to China's emerging middle class, which has created the world'slargest auto market.
"People need to remember China is not amanufacturing base. It is a consumer base," said Anderson Chan, a Fordspokesman who grew up in Taiwan.
"Everyone want to be a globalbrand, but the reality is the low-hanging fruit is in their own market,"Chan said. Established brands are profitable now in China and don'tneed to expand outside the country.
The Chinese are quick learners, but, like Dunne, Chan still sees them as a decade from being U.S.-ready.
"They still have a ways to go on quality, safety and technology to be acceptable for American consumers," Chan said.
SixChinese automakers have been exhibitors at the Detroit auto show since2007. There were none last year. For 2013 Ghangzhou will test thewaters, said show spokesman Marc Harlow.
China's domestic automaking base is consolidating. Companies are going out of business and dealers are closing, Dunne said.
For the big global players like GM and Volkswagen, however, the forecast is still rosy.
GM'sBarra is pleased with how its brands are positioned with two luxurybrands to take advantage of growth forecast for the segment that isalready 1 million strong.
Luxury cars sell for $60,000-plus and almost all are paid for in cash.
German automakers have dominated the luxury market, but their cars are becoming common.
AffluentChinese consumers want something different. Cadillac, Infiniti andLincoln, which debuts in China in 2014, will change the competitivelandscape.
But in the near term, China's economic growth is slowing.
Consumersare skittish because of China's political leadership is about tochange. The Chinese Community Party Congress begins Thursday. The mainobjective is to choose successors to President Hu Jintao and Premier WenJiabao.
The congress meets amid growing concern in China aboutinflation, corruption and more aggressive expressions of publicdiscontent.
"I'm still very bullish on China, but looking for a rocky time in the next 12-18 months," Dunne said.