Commentary: Filling Some Voids In This Market

The automotive market in the USA has always been fickle when it came to consumer choices. You might say that it has become constant stream of hypocrisy. We want more brands to come and offer more choices for the consumer. Yet, the consumer will ultimately buy brands that are tried, tested, and true…over and over again. 

For the latter set of manufacturers and brands – good for you. That is why you stay in business. 

For “new” brands and automotive start-ups, the climb for acceptance is steep in a very demanding marketplace. Ask Hyundai how it had to reinvent itself in this country by changing the culture towards building better vehicles and backing them up with one of the best warranties in the business. 

That prompted me to wonder if there are still some brands that can come to this country – in some cases, return here – to offer the consumer more choices at more competitive prices. The latter pint is important, because the price of new vehicles continue to rise in the face of supply chain challenges and a wave of inflation fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some of these entries have been based on ones that have already announced their entry into our market. Others are existing manufacturers that have other brands that would augment their current offerings here. Then, there are some that could be seen as “left field,” because they have vehicles that could easily be sold here. 

Instead of saying “I’d like to see them here,” I’m taking a more analytic approach. It would be more “could a new brand be sold here…and what would it take for that to happen?” 

This may seem more complicated that it seems. Just work with me here…

Photo courtesy of Stellantis NV

STELLANTIS: The current strategy for the company has CEO Carlos Tavares imposing a 10-year succeed-or-get-the-chop rule upon every brand across the group. Recently, they were given a potential lifeline that include electrified vehicles across all of those brands. How they will execute the 10-year survival timeline upon such brands, as Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo will depend on whether they can rise to occasion with their EV lineups. What if any of these brands fail? Will we finally see a return of Peugeot to this country in their place? Before we see that, some attrition will have to take place. It might just get ugly in the 2030s. 

VOLKSWAGEN GROUP: For years, Volkswagen had been exploring ways to expand its mainstream offerings in this country. Currently, that burden has been on the Volkswagen brand’s shoulders, since it is the most recognized and trusted nameplate in this country. However, if you compare prices of Volkswagen models to Skodas and Seats, you will find that the Czech and Spanish brands offer similar vehicles at a slightly lower price point – perhaps within $2,500. In the USA. Volkswagen is trying their best to offer a level of value that competes with other mainstream brands. Would Skoda and/or Seat add to that value proposition? It depends on which vehicles would across the Atlantic into certain segments that need more competition. 

GEELY/VOLVO: As Volvo transforms itself into a purveyor of safe electrified vehicles, one might wonder whether its Chinese minders would want to enter into the marketplace with their electrified lineup of lower priced offerings. The trick would be is to do so without using a lot of Volvo’s distribution and dealership infrastructure in this market. It is easy to point to the possibility of returning Lotus to this country, now that Geely controls it. My vote is for the Lynk & Co brand to create a similar experience that Polestar carved out for themselves. That means using the “Spaces” concept to physically present the lineup, while utilizing their online sales platform for most of their sales. 

MG: Morris Garages last sold their wares in 1980. British Leyland split into two operations, and USA consumers were left with Jaguar, Rover, and Triumph. Eventually, it would be Jaguar that would survive the implosion of the British automotive industry in this country in the early 1980s. As a brand, MG may stoke some nostalgia. However, you would not recognize them today. They are a part of China’s SAIC consortium, who also partners with General Motors in producing vehicles, such as the Buick Envision. It brings up the question of whether MG can be sold in this country without any ties to GM. Here’s a hint: MG is currently sold in Mexico with a four-vehicle lineup. 

Photo by Randy Stern

MAYBE ANOTHER CHINESE AUTOMAKER? Given the experience of what transpired at HAAH, it seems that the Chinese will never establish a distribution network for their vehicles in our market. Outside of Geely and SAIC’s MG, who could fill the inexpensive automotive market? I have been watching several markets where the Chinese have made inroads – The Philippines, Australia, South Africa, and in Latin America. On those markets, the Chinese not only established themselves as competitors to Japanese and Korean brands. They have been praised by their local media. The question remains as to which Chinese automaker could fill the void left by HAAH’s attempts to produce and distribute vehicles here. Could Chery do it on their own? Great Wall? GAC? We’ve seen GAC at the North American International Auto Show showing up with products only for visitors to leave with a simple curiosity. 

So…who knows what will happen this decade in this market? Maybe those automakers will add electrified vehicles to the mix in meeting EV mandates stateside? For now, we have what we have…and the supply chain challenges and inflation will stick around for a while. 

Cover photo by Randy Stern

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