When Motoring Weekly first saw the announcement that Zotye were going to start selling in the US, the first thing we said was: who?
Zotye Auto are a very young company with respects to car manufacturing having been founded in 2005. They started out exporting components and presumably soon found that they were making enough parts for everyone else that they could simply bolt them to a chassis and make their own car!
Based in China, they soon picked up contracts with many of the other local manufacturers and joint ventures which enabled them to take design features and quietly use them on their own cars.
In 2009 they purchased another small Chinese manufacturer, Jiangnan Auto, who were building an updated version of the Suzuki Alto. They renamed it the JN Auto, then back to the Alto before settling on the TT – I wonder what Audi think of that? Hopefully they have worldwide rights on that name.
Their first model under the Zotye brand was the RX6400 that was a small SUV that looked like a clone of the Daihatsu Terios. That’s basically because that was what it was, just with a different badge glued on! They then did a minor update and called it the Nomad or the Hunter in export markets. That was also a copied name – Hillman used that name for several decades. This model was also offered as an electric version called the Luis 4U in partnership with a German company and has been through several name changes in its home market. It seems that they can make it look like a new model if they simply change the name!
Also in 2009, they released the Zotye M300, a rebadged FIAT Multipla built under licence for the Chinese market and then they launched the Z200, also based on a FIAT design having bought the tooling from Nanjing FIAT. Now they have moved to electric power with the M300 called the E300 EV and two other models that are “inspired” by the Smart Fortwo: the E30 and E200 EVs.
In addition they have five models in the “Z” series, six more in the “T” series and another five random models as well. Most appear to have design features copied from the big boys such as the SR9 which is a direct clone of a well-known German SUV:
Export Markets Beckon
The company recognised early on that export sales would be key, having learnt that during their time as a component manufacturer and quickly signed deals with partners in Asia, India and Germany. Now they are ready to hit the US with a plan to sell a cheap SUV from the T series through 19 dealerships in Maryland and California. Presumably these are close to ports because it does seem that the initial logistics would be difficult!
However, they plan to fill the gap with up to 350 dealers right across the country. With a local HQ just south of Los Angeles, they are focused on getting the network up and running quickly. This puts them in direct competition with GAC who also recently announced their own plans to target this huge market. Their biggest hurdle though is the current Government who are torn between the new jobs being created and the fact that Chinese product will be sold to Americans. It is clear the Big Three have abandoned the sedan market in favour of larger SUVs and trucks, however this allows the younger Chinese brands to do what the Japanese brands did fifty years ago when they got a foothold in the country.
If the economy slows down more than it is starting to, GAC and Zotye will gain marketshare simply on price and once that happens, it will put significant pressure on Ford, General Motors and FIAT Chrysler, with the latter the most unstable at the moment.