The United Auto Workers (UAW) is up in arms over reports that a Chinese-made Buick may soon be headed to U.S. dealerships. If true, General Motors would be the first major automaker to manufacture a car in China and sell it in the U.S.
The union said Tuesday that GM “should stand by its declaration that it will build where it sells,” after Automotive News said if the Detroit automaker were to launch the five-seat Buick Envision compact crossover utility vehicle it would “almost certainly be imported here from China.”
It’s not clear how U.S. consumers would react to Chinese-made U.S.-brand cars. Considering their wide embrace of Chinese-made Apple products, they could wind up associating the Buick with Detroit rather than the factory in northeastern Shandong province where the current Envision is made. Volvo Cars, the Swedish company owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, is about to release in the U.S. a longer version of its S60 sedan that’s made in Chengdu, but so far no major global automaker has announced plans to follow Volvo’s lead.
The reports come about a month before a deadline for a new labor contract between the UAW and GM and amid ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim countries strongly opposed by unions, labor rights groups and free-trade opponents.
“UAW members are disappointed with the tone-deaf speculation that the Envision would be imported from China,” the UAW said. “This product discussion is especially alarming in light of the current TPP trade language debate.”
Buick spokesman Nick Richards said by email GM doesn’t discuss future product plans. “We have not announced the Buick Envision for any markets other than China, where it has been extremely successful to date.”
Chinese demand for Buick, America’s oldest surviving vehicle brand, has been a boon to GM. The entry-level luxury marque is considered a status symbol with Chinese families who don’t have the cash for a BMW or an Audi. Since GM's 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring, the Detroit automaker has been investing heavily in reviving interest in Buick among U.S. buyers, and the Envision would be a good fit for that.
For years, Buick dealers have said a compact crossover vehicle like the Envision would fill a void in their product lines between the shorter Encore subcompact crossover and the longer Enclave full-size crossover. Offering more room than boring sedans and less ostentatious than giant fuel-chugging SUVs, crossovers have helped utility vehicles become the most popular type of passenger car in the U.S.