Chinese companies buying up Detroit's auto mindshare

Chinese owned companies are buying up engineering talent in Detroit and may soon ship cars in the United States.

A SAIC Motor product, China's largest automaker

Detroit proudly calls itself the motor city, and its fortunes rise and fall together with the domestic auto industry. Chinese owned companies that may soon sell competing cars are waging that they will receive a warm reception if they create jobs there.

The New York Times's Bill Vlasic is reporting that nearly 100 Chinese firms are investing in Detroit's parts suppliers and engineering groups to capture industry mindshare. Chinese companies are taking care to avoid a backlash against foreign cars.

"The Chinese are well behind the Japanese when they hit our shores 30 years ago. They lack the know-how, and they're coming here to get it," David E. Cole, co-founder of the Center for Automotive Research, told the Times. Vlasic speculated that the longer-term strategy might be to avoid the negative press that Japanese automakers received when they came to U.S. shores in mass during the 1980's. Chinese firms are also taking care to avoid the media spotlight, he added.

U.S. battery maker A123 Systems is a prime example of this trend.  A Chinese auto parts company called Wanxiang Group now owns A123, a one-time recipient of several hundred million dollars in U.S. government funds to finance the development of electric car technologies. Wanxiang helped it avoid bankruptcy.

The Times report also noted that Chinese firms are pursuing direct relationships with U.S automakers. Chinese companies sell billions of aftermarket products into the U.S. marketplace, but are far less likely to directly supply the Big Three. That's changing as major components are now being made in China.

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