GM plans to bring 30,000-40,000 Chinese made Envision SUVs into the US a year

GM plans to bring 30,000-40,000 Chinese made Envision SUVs into the US a year

General Motors' confirmation it will import the Buick Envision SUV into the United States from next year has, unsurprisingly, not gone down well with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, with which the automaker recently concluded a new round of pay and conditions negotiations. The move has been greeted more favourably by industry commentators and reports suggest more Chinese Buicks could follow.

Confirming media reports from last month, GM has just announced a preliminary specification for the Chinese Envision it will start selling in mid-2016, saying it was "was designed, engineered and tested in Michigan as a world-class luxury crossover to challenge the world's best competition" and not mentioning Chinese build at all. The two-row, five-seater will be offered in the US with a 252hp (186kW) two-litre turbo petrol engine with stop/start and the brand's "first active twin clutch all wheel drive system". Standard specification will be high with items such as a power tailgate, power adjust and heated front seats, a full suite of active and passive safety equipment, Bose sound and tri-zone climate control.

In a statement, the UAW's General Motors department head, Cindy Estrada, said: "[The] announcement by General Motors that they are importing the Envision from China is a slap in the face to US taxpayers and the men and women who worked so hard to save GM during its darkest time.

"General Motors continues to use the slogan, 'Build it where you sell it'.  The company should adhere to their own words and should reconsider this decision and place this product into one of their facilities in the United States. The men and women of GM and the American taxpayers who invested so much in GM's future deserve better.

"This is why the TPP trade agreement is dangerous for our nation's families and their future. We must stand against trade deals that eat away at US jobs and erode the middle class economy."

Investors website seekingaplha.com said GM has long made vehicles in China and has a major presence in the country, is much a global company and is now taking a next step by building a vehicle in China and importing it to the US. GM and its Chinese joint venture partners sold 3.5m vehicles in 2014 compared with the 1.1m sold by Ford and local partners. Buick is a very popular brand in China - also used on GM Europe-designed models sold there - and the 900,000 Buicks shifted in China last year accounted for about 80% of the brand's worldwide sales.

"China has lower labour costs and the large number of Buicks sold there adds the advantage of centralising production around the brand's core market. And, in Europe, GM can take advantage of excess capacity created by the slow economic situation in Europe by utilising this capacity for exports," seekingalpha.com said. "As a bonus, GM also gains an edge in negotiations with the [UAW] as GM can threaten to take more production overseas."

GM appears to be thinking likewise, according to a Reuters report. Citing two unnamed sources, the news agency said most Buick vehicles sold in the US after 2016 could be imported from China and Europe. Only the replacements for the mid-size LaCrosse sedan and the large Enclave crossover were expected to be built in North America, according to the sources, identified only as people whose "companies work with GM".

"We do not comment on future product speculation," a Buick spokesman told Reuters which, again citing unnamed sources, added Buick is planning to shift production of the compact Verano sedan from Michigan to China late in 2016 while the mid-size Regal sedan - North America's version of the European Opel/Vauxhall Insignia - is likely to shift from Canada to either China or Europe in 2017.

The current generation Regal was imported initially from Opel before assembly shifted to GM Canada's plant in Onshawa, Ontario.

Reuters said Buick was also planning to import Opel's compact [D-segment] Cascada convertible into the US. It is one of a small number of Opels sold in Australia under the Holden brand.

Reuters sources said the subcompact Encore crossover, currently imported into the US from Korea, will eventually be made in China. In contrast, GM workers in Europe successfully lobbied for assembly of the Opel/Vauxhall Mokka to be transferred to a Spanish plant (albeit from Korean CKD kits with some rising local content) in the second half of 2014.

The UAW's Estrada told Reuters GM would be "tone deaf" to import vehicles from overseas "after the sacrifices by US taxpayers" as well as union concessions, to create a profitable GM after a government-funded bailout in 2009.

The redesigned LaCrosse will be made in Hamtramck and the Enclave in Lansing, Michigan.

Auto market intelligence
from just-auto

• Auto component fitment forecasts
• OEM & tier 1 profiles & factory finder
• Analysis of 30+ auto technologies & more