Chinese automakers not so lost in translation anymore

January 12, 2009

Competitors in the U.S. auto sector the last few years have had reasons to snicker at Chinese automakers when they appear at the Detroit auto show, thanks to horrible translations in advertising handouts that might lead, for example, consumers to believe a Chinese car could catch fire in cold weather.

Those days are fading, however, as this year’s brochures were light years better than years past.

Brilliance Auto had only one glaring error, referring to its luxury sedan as emanating “Oriental mystic” instead of “mystique.” Of course, someone needs to tell the translators about political correctness as “Oriental” is not a word that is commonly accepted in America anymore for reference to Asia.

BYD Auto also had a well translated brochure, with only one dropped word spotted and that omission not causing any misperception.

These minor errors are big improvements from the last two years. At the 2008 Detroit auto show, Changfeng Motor talked about “citified consumers loving fashion” and how its cars “tightly grasp your eyeballs.” The previous year, it said one of its SUVs “can ignite under low temperature and anoxia.”

However, while the translations at the 2009 show are up to snuff, the production values of the press conferences may still need work. BYD’s sound system, for instance, was distorted and not loud enough.

The goals of the Chinese automakers are no laughing matter anymore to those already in the U.S. market.

The Chinese government has pushed to establish its auto sector as a global player. While a Chinese automaker selling cars in the United States may be several years off — the vehicles still are seen as needing more work on safety, quality and other key areas for buyers and regulators — many companies in China see themselves taking the same path the Japanese automakers took in eventually carving out a share of the U.S. market.


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