Ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China stalled Guangzhou Automotive Group’s journey toward selling its crossovers and SUVs in America.
But it didn’t stop the automaker from debuting an all-electric SUV crossover concept to a packed house at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday. GAC introduced the Entranze, a seven-passenger vehicle designed in California.
The Entranze concept crossover is a highly stylized but believable execution that GAC plans to produce as an electric vehicle in the second half of 2019. At four previous Detroit shows, GAC showed imagination-stretching concepts.
The Entranze features a novel seating arrangement with three seats on a front bench and two seats with fold-down rocker panels in the second and third rows. Forward-hinged doors slide along the outside of the jellybean shape, making entry and exit easier. A storage bin slides between the seat rows. The front fenders recede into the interior.
‘More like a living room’
“The interior is designed more like a living room than cars on the road today,” said Partos Fontaeus, executive design director at GAC Advanced Design Center Los Angeles.
GAC also has a production-ready version of another SUV, the GS5, ready for the U.S. market. It unveiled the vehicle at the 2018 Paris Motor Show and said it rescheduled the launch for the first half of 2020 because of the current political climate.
“Originally, our plan was to launch by the end of 2019,” Yu Jun, president of GAC Motor, said at the Detroit auto show. “Due to the recent developments in the U.S.-China relationship, we postponed our plans.”
But GAC is optimistic for a settlement of trade tensions in ongoing talks before the March 1 expiration of a 90-day truce.
“We believe both countries’ leaders will have the vision and wisdom to overcome their differences and settle this issue as soon as possible,” Jun said.
Once relegated to the lobby of the Cobo Center where the Detroit show is held, this year the automaker secured a more prominent placement to display its growing range of crossovers and SUVs to the public. The absence of German automakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW at NAIAS this year helped GAC secure a space on the main show floor.
GAC sells vehicles in 16 countries, but the vast majority of its sales take place in China. Last year the automaker topped sales of 535,168, a more than 5 percent increase over 2017. It will begin sales in Africa, South America and additional Southeast Asia markets this year. It launched a Russian subsidiary last year and will begin selling there in September.
It bucked the trend in China, where vehicle sales were down 4 percent. It is targeting 560,000 sales this year with a stretch goal of 11 percent, which would top 600,000 sales, Jun said.
“We are pressing ahead with our global expansion strategy,” Jun said.
Efforts to build a sales network in the U.S. began in 2018 with meetings at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, where 130 dealers from 30 states attended GAC’s presentations. It plans a national headquarters in Irvine, with its first dealerships in California.
Alternative power vehicles
All of GAC’s vehicles will be electrified by hybrid or battery electric technology by 2025, according to the company. A plug-in electric hybrid and a battery electric finished third and fourth in China sales last year.
“We plan to launch two more EV models (in China) in May and October this year and a third in March 2020,” said Wang Qiujing, president of the GAC R&D Center.
GAC plans to produce an autonomous vehicle based on the auto industry’s Level 3 definition of autonomy, which requires the vehicle to manage most aspects of driving, including monitoring the environment. A driver is still required to take over when the vehicle encounters a situation it doesn’t recognize.