Chinese cars not ready for US, they avoid 2014 NAIAS image

At least one Chinese automaker has set up shop inside Cobo Center every year since 2006. Some of those cars looked unsophisticated and amateurish, compared to the flashy American, European, Japanese and Korean brands. But this year, the Chinese automakers are quietly absent.

And although the Chinese have promised for a decade to bring cars to the US by now, industry-watchers say it could be some time before we see Chinese automakers here again, and five years before an actual Chinese-built car hits American roads.

The lack of Chinese presence at this year’s Detroit show hasn’t stopped the Chinese from talking. An executive at BYD told Bloomberg News this month that the company plans to introduce four models for the US market at the end of 2015.

But BYD’s announcement could be just the latest in a series of bold predictions from Chinese automakers that include Great Wall and Geely, the first Chinese automaker to bring a car to the Detroit auto show. Geely first made an appearance at the Detroit show in 2006, and proclaimed it would soon bring a vehicle to the US market, but those plans have not yet come to fruition.

The Chinese automakers — relatively young, compared to the many decades of experience of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler— haven’t yet followed through with plans to introduce vehicles in the world’s second-largest market.

“I think at this point it’s still such a nebulous process, we’re just holding our breath and waiting,” said Karl Brauer, an auto analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “It seems like every year, we’ve heard that they’re just around the corner.”

The Chinese auto market, the world’s biggest, is growing at such an exponential rate that automakers can hardly keep up with demand. Chinese automakers would have to establish a dealer network, and the US market is already heavily saturated with American, German, Korean and Japanese automakers.

Analysts believe the best chance for Chinese cars to make it on U.S. roads, at least initially, is through importing — but not from China. Chinese automakers may choose to build factories in Mexico or in South America to serve those markets, then export some vehicles to the US. But in the long term, analysts say Chinese automakers must have broad operations in America.