LOS ANGELES — California startup HAAH Motors Holdings is shifting back to its original business plan of importing vehicles to the U.S. from China, citing difficulties establishing a U.S. assembly plant during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new plan is part of a joint venture announced Tuesday with HAAH’s existing technology partner, Chery Automobile Co. The new venture under a Chery subsidiary will first bring Chinese-made vehicles to the U.S. “and later establish a local U.S. manufacturing plant that would bring jobs to America,” HAAH said.
The California startup has signed up dozens of dealers in the U.S. and Canada.
HAAH’s original business plan was to distribute imported vehicles from various Chinese automakers starting in 2019 and pay U.S. tariffs. It pivoted to U.S. production last year after partnering with Chery.
“While all plans for the U.S. manufacturing plant remain in place, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a delay in the selection of a site,” HAAH said.
The U.S. company also announced Tuesday that it would bring a pickup to the U.S. market and eventually expand into electric vehicles as part of the joint venture. Chery has multiple brands and platforms in China.
HAAH’s new timeline is to import two Chery crossovers, sold in China as the Exceed VX and TXL, beginning in late 2022. In the U.S., they will be sold under the newly created Vantas brand. The previous timeline was to assemble the crossovers in the U.S. starting in early 2022.
HAAH said that its joint venture is formally with the business unit Shanghai Sicar Automobile Technology Co.
“Sicar is an autonomous and independently operated vehicle technology development company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chery Automobile,” it said.
Chery is one of several state-owned automakers in China and the biggest exporter of vehicles to foreign markets. HAAH is a nearly 6-year-old startup based in Irvine, Calif., led by auto industry veteran Duke Hale, who has worked at Mazda and Jaguar Land Rover.
“This expands our original agreement to forming a joint venture in China with Sicar,” Hale told Automotive News. Chery is the majority equity holder in the venture, Hale added.
Sicar will supply vehicles under both the Vantas brand and the more budget friendly T-GO brand for the U.S. market. Chery’s similarly named Tiggo brand is focused on budget crossovers while Exceed is more premium.