LOS ANGELES Prospective Chinese automakers preparing to export products to the United States had better consider what's in a name, said Lincoln Merrihew, an svp at TNS Automotive.
The Marlborough, Mass.-based company surveyed 2,500 American consumers on what points should be emphasized in advertising Chinese brands. The top-line findings are set for release in an upcoming TNS newsletter.
"The one response that stands out is 'Chinese heritage,'" said Merrihew. Fifty-four percent of respondents said "do not emphasize" Chinese heritage; 29 percent said "emphasize only a little." Only 14 percent said "emphasize a little" and a mere 4 percent said that Chinese heritage should be the "lead point" in advertising.
Merrihew said the response was particularly emphatic given the contrast between the second-highest "do not emphasize" answer: a mere 19 percent said the "dealer experience" should not be emphasized. Most of the other advertising points scored in the single digits, Merrihew said.
"Consumers are expecting Chinese cars to be fuel efficient and inexpensive," Merrihew said. "If those key expectations are not met, it will be a big problem."
The survey is relevant because DaimlerChrysler's Dodge, for example, is considering importing a Chinese car called the Hornet, which Merrihew described as "in the flavor" of a GTU. The strategy could pan out, he added.
"If you are a Chinese automaker, don't name your company something that says 'China', like Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., for example," said Merrihew. "It would be better to advertise your cars through an established brand name or name the vehicle something Yankee sounding."
Despite the negative reaction to Chinese marketing, there is a "huge potential" for Chinese autos in the U.S., he said. "There's been so much in the news lately about Chinese economic growth, it's much fresher in people's minds than when the Korean brands came in, for example."
Merrihew said the first Chinese-made autos are scheduled to arrive next year and 2009.