For years, one of the biggest automotive questions to grapple with has been this: What will the first Chinese car sold in America look like? Will it look instantly recognizable and strange to the car buying public, like Japanese cars did 40 years go, or will it blend in seamlessly with what we already know, with inconspicuous styling that the average person wouldn’t give a second glance in a parking lot? It’s only a matter of time until vehicles from the world’s largest auto market start appearing on our shores, but will Americans be openminded enough to actually buy them?
Now, it looks like those questions will be answered soon enough. This summer, Volvo is beginning to import the 2016 S60 Inscription from its plants in China, and by this time next year, General Motors’s next captive import from may very well be a model that’s been designed and built by the company’s Shanghai arm.
The Buick Envision has been on sale in China since 2014, and according to Automotive News, it’ll reach our showrooms in fall 2016 as a ’17 model. A two-row crossover, it will slot between the brand’s compact Encore, and the three-row Enclave. And with the crossover market heating up, Buick, um, envisions the Envision as its response to competitors like the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Nissan Murano, Chevy Equinox, and GMC Terrain.
While the Automotive News piece is the first confirmation of the Envision’s impending arrival, it’s by no means a surprise. Car and Driver spotted a test mule in the Detroit area earlier this year, and with a compact crossover-sized hole in Buick’s lineup, it all but seemed like a forgone conclusion that it would come our way.
The Envision may have its roots in China, but underneath, it’s about as American as any current GM product. Despite being roughly the size of the Equinox and Terrain, it’s built on a completely different platform (for now), namely the front-drive Delta platform that underpins the all-new Chevy Volt and Cruze. In China, the CUV is powered by either a 1.5 liter good for 166 horsepower, or a turbocharged 2.0 liter four that makes a respectable 256 horses. The smaller powerplant comes mated to a dual-clutch auto, while the turbocharged mill gets a six speed auto. Car and Driver reports that if both engines make it stateside, we’ll likely get a third engine option that splits the difference between the two. GM hasn’t announced where the U.S.-spec Envision will be built yet, but more than likely it’ll be stateside.
Back when Americans were getting used to the idea of Japanese cars, the Big Three softened the blow with captive imports, rebadged versions of cars from the Far East that let people experience Japanese reliability while still technically “buying American.” With the auto market rapidly evolving to suit the needs of the Chinese market over the past few years, it was inevitable that we’d start getting new models out of the deal sooner or later. Add to it China’s recent financial woes, and dozens of American-owned auto plants that have opened there over the past decade, and it’s likely that we’ll be seeing Chinese-built cars on our roads very soon. But don’t worry, your first Chinese car probably won’t be something unproven or (gasp) foreign, like a Geely or a BYD, it’ll most likely be as American as your old Ford Escort, Chevy Spectrum, or Dodge Colt.
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