Will the Chinese Dragon breathe fire on the UK motor industry?
Ever heard of Luxgen, Geely or Beijing Automotive? What about Great Wall Motors, Foton or Chery?
If like me you’re a car saddo, then perhaps you have.
But for the vast majority of people not afflicted by the condition, the names will mean nothing – yet.
But one day they will.
2012 will see the Chinese nation celebrate the Year of the Dragon – its motto, I Reign. With its never-ending rise in the Far East’s dominance manufacturers unfamiliar to us now could soon have models on our streets in droves.
Cheap labour, an occasional disregard for copyright law and tendency to resist democracy mean they can knock ‘em out for peanuts.
The Chinese of course already have a presence here. The shiny new MGs launched earlier this year are products of SAIC, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.
Fancy getting behind the wheel of a Volvo in 2012? I’m sure the bosses at Geely Automobile, just down the road from SAIC, would be delighted.
I suspect we’re on the verge of something similar to what happened 40 years ago when Japanese motors began to appear here, the laughs and ridicule as such odd-looking motors as the Datsun 120Y Fastback trundled by.
But plenty of people were gradually won over by their reliability, price and generous kit.
The driving glove brigade never fancied them of course, at least not initially. But the homegrown industry’s response to the foreign threat was pathetic in the extreme and relied largely on applying plastic Union Jacks (okay, pedants, Union Flags) to the bodywork.
The greatest example was the CityRover, in reality nothing more than a Tata Indicar, built in India and sold here at about ten times the price it would be in Mumbai.
The car was so bad Rover refused to let Top Gear test drive it on camera yet the firm was happy enough to flog them to little old ladies who knew no better and probably believed they were doing their bit for Britain.
Rover 75s, by the way, can now be bought again in China where the model’s been tweaked a bit and re-badged Roewe.
It’s built by SAIC and is essentially the same car as the ‘new’ MG.
The coming few years promise to be fascinating for observers such as myself. For those inside the industry it could prove to be a case of boom or bust.
Let’s just hope we get some decent motors out of it all and that Britain’s workforce has a share of the action.