Can Qoros Make A Difference Outside The Walls Of China?

I know of no sober industry executive who fears a Chinese entry into the US.

Qoros is a venture between the Israeli Israel Corp. and state-owned Chinese company Chery. Chery, up to now, has been known mostly for "appropriating" western designs and having an ill-fated, ridiculous and half-baked venture with Malcolm Bricklin to bring Chery vehicles to the United States a few years ago. Bricklin was an original distributor of Subaru and Yugo in the US. The only people to find any success in that venture were the lawyers.

But what gets my attention now with Qoros is that the company seems to be addressing the cultural mistakes and barriers that have bedeviled every other Chinese automaker with aspirations to be successful beyond China. It is using non-Chinese executives – people with legitimate experience in the Western auto industry – in the areas of design, engineering and distribution.

Heretofore, I have been bored silly watching Chinese automakers like Chery, Great Wall and BYD either come to the Detroit Auto Show with a car, or strike some preposterous distribution deal with the hacks and ne'er-do-wells of the western auto retailing space. It's been all for naught. These cars and ventures have been so inept and awful that I know of no sober industry executive who fears a Chinese entry into the US.

Most of these people have no business being out front in a venture to bring Chinese cars to Western markets.

It's worth noting that Chinese automaker Geely is the current owner of Volvo Cars, but the company has not been so silly as to try to sell its own vehicles under its brand name in the US. It remains to be seen if Chery's stewardship of Volvo allows the company to grow in the West.

Typical of the attempts of the Chinese to enter the West is when BYD came to Detroit a few years ago after basking in the public-relations glow of an investment made in the company by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. When I asked to speak to someone who could answer some questions, I was handed the business card of a guy with a Chinese cell-phone number. It was handed to me by someone pretending to be in "media relations" whose qualifications were that she had worked in customer service for an airline (presumably handling calls from Chinese travelers), and most of all that she was Chinese.

I'm sure that these are nice people, but they have no business being out front in a venture to bring Chinese cars to Western markets. There are few things more difficult in business than opening up a new market for a brand of automobiles. Perhaps Qoros has heard and seen the refrain of these complaints and botched efforts to get our attention, and decided the tribal approach to executive talent recruiting and human resources is a recipe for failure.

Stefano Villanti, most visible executive at Qoros who is head of marketing, sales and product strategy, though, has something to prove on a world stage. His experience comes from consulting giant McKinsey, a helicopter company and Procter and Gamble. There are some people from BMW and Volkswagen in the ranks, but he's not one of them.

Who is going to pass up a VW Golf or Jetta similarly priced for a Qoros?

According to Ad Age, the company, whose headquarters are in Shanghai, has signed up BBH China to help it crack the Eastern European market, to be followed by Western Europe. BBH is part of ad agency giant Publicis, and has done outstanding work for Audi among other brands.

"Someone has to be a game-changer, and maybe Qoros has the opportunity once and for all to change the perception of quality for 'Made in China,'" Arto Hampartsoumian, CEO of BBH China told Ad Age. "Something so visible as a car, if it does live up to the expectation ... then they will be able to change perceptions on a bigger scale." The company's ad slogan is "A New Drive."

That is the slogan that will usher the Qoros 3 sedan (how did they ever think of calling it that?) when it cracks into Eastern Europe at the end of this year. The price tag will be between $21,000 and $29,000. A hatchback will head into Western Europe in 2014.

These ventures look good on paper, but are heavy lifts. The first wave of customers are likely to be those with awful credit ratings. Who else would pass up a VW Golf or Jetta similarly priced for a Qoros?

But at least I'm going to bet that the Qoros business executives responsible for the launch, public relations, distribution, etc. will he handing out business cards with reachable cell-phone numbers and e-mail addresses for those people in Poland and Russia who have questions. That's a start.

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