The Wall Street Journal broke the news that General Motors, once one of the bluest of blue chips, is planning to import a Chinese-made Buick Envision to the U.S.
The move is being called a first for major automakers.
But it’s no longer a first for almost any other sector. Apparel has long been made in China. Smartphones too: “Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China.” Airbus has a final assembly line in Tianjin. Even pharmaceutical makers have been moving their supply chain to China. In one sector after another, Chinese manufacturing has moved up the value chain to a point where it can compete on western markets in increasingly sophisticated products.
It is important news for GM because of what it represents. Smaller cars made in Mexico were not a threat to the future of the unionized U.S. autoworkers; a high-priced SUV may be seen as such.
Maybe the least surprising news in the announcement was that GM was importing an SUV. China is now the largest SUV market in the world and last year SUV sales rose more than 30%, while passenger cars sales climbed only around 10%, according to China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Fortune previously detailed how Chinese tastes helped drive Lamborghini to produce its first SUV in a couple decades.
The Envision is a hit in China, says the Detroit News:
Buick launched the Envision — slotted between the subcompact Encore and large Enclave SUVs — in fall 2014 in China. Sales of the Envision have been strong in China since and the popularity of the SUV helped Buick sales in October in China rise 42 percent year-over-year and set a record of more than 100,000 sales in a month for the first time. Through October this year, Buick has sold more than 108,000 Envision SUVs in China.
Now GM in China is exporting what it was already building frantically.