DETROIT -- General Motors will start importing Chinese-made sport utility vehicles to the North American market as early as this year, the company revealed Sunday, in a landmark move that would mark a first for U.S. automakers.
GM will import the Buick Envision it manufactures together with SAIC Motor in an apparent step to take advantage of the strong dollar and sell the SUV at lower prices. The joint venture is also currently facing slumping sales in China, so the maneuver seems to be aimed at maintaining plant utilization there as well.
The U.S. carmaker wishes to be flexible in how it utilizes its global production capacity, and North America and China represents two of its key regions, said President Dan Ammann at a Sunday press conference here.
Last year, GM's Chinese sales grew 5.2%, but monthly sales between spring and fall fell below year-earlier numbers. About 147,000 Envisions were sold in 2015. Some see the shift to the North American market as a way to make up for sliding production amid China's economic slowdown.
Several major automakers are averse to exporting Chinese-made cars to developed countries, with a source at a Japanese car manufacturer citing quality issues. At the same time, Chinese plants in recent years have shifted to automation and built up expertise in production management. Both Honda Motor and Volkswagen export Chinese-made vehicles to Europe and Australia.
However, GM's plan may invite opposition from labor unions and political circles, especially since performance is picking up. During recent contract talks, unions lodged pointed questions about the impact Mexican production will have on U.S. jobs. As carmakers continue to optimize global production, they will likely have to sell their strategies to potentially hostile audiences at home.