North American Int’l Auto ShowDETROIT – Geely Automobile Co. Chairman and founder Shufu Li says industry analysts likely are correct when they say American consumers are not yet willing to buy Chinese cars.

However, Geely is working to meet their expectations, Li says in an interview with Ward’s at the press preview of the North American International Auto Show, which opens here to the public Jan. 14.

Geely's presence marks the first time a Chinese auto maker has exhibited at the Detroit show.

“I think, in a sense, they’re right,” Li says of doubters. “We still have a lot of work to do to improve our technology and quality, and that’s what we’re doing. We believe one day the American consumers will accept us.”

Geely plans to begin selling two vehicles, the 7151 CK sedan displayed here, and the Beauty Leopard roadster in 2008 in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and in the mainland U.S. by 2009.(See related story: Geely to Avoid ‘Blanket Invasion’ of Chinese Cars in U.S.)

John Harmer (left) and Shufu Li with Geely CK.

John Harmer, vice president of Geely U.S.A. Inc. says vehicles Geely has delivered to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have yet to complete the testing process.

“We certainly haven’t passed all of the (tests),” Harmer says. “We haven’t completed all of the tests. We’re satisfied that we’re going to be able to make the corrections necessary to totally comply with U.S. safety regulations by 2009.”

By that time, he says, the vehicles will meet strict safety regulations and have such things as standard airbags and advanced body structures.

Li, who says he has been to Detroit many times to “just learn and observe,” is not sure where the auto maker will locate its North American headquarters.

“Detroit is like a hometown for the international automotive industry, and we all heard about it when we were young,” Li says, noting Geely will start looking to hire its U.S. sales and marketing staff soon.

Harmer says it will be important to pick a location that is pleasing to all Geely's future U.S. employees.

Geely’s worldwide production capacity currently is 200,000 units annually, and Li says by the end of 2006 it will be 300,000. By 2010, output will reach 1 million vehicles. And by 2015, the company expects two-thirds of its production will be for export.

cschweinsberg@priimediabusiness.com