| GENEVA, March 6
GENEVA, March 6 Have you heard the one about the
Israeli billionaire, the German designer and the Chinese
For Qoros, the Chinese-Israeli carmaker making a play for
Europe, its global roots are no joke. They're its calling card.
An ambitious venture between Israel's richest man and one of
China's biggest carmakers, Qoros, which debuted at the Geneva
Motor Show this week, is betting that Europeans will overlook
the Made in China sticker and fall for its western DNA.
"This combination of western technology, western management,
coupled with ... Chinese pedigree is actually a winning
combination," said Idan Ofer, the Israeli tycoon who has bet
$600 million of his company's cash on Qoros winning hearts in
Beijing and Berlin.
The early signs from Geneva are encouraging.
Renault Nissan chief executive officer
Carlos Ghosn, former Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata
and Jaguar Land Rover chief executive officer Ralf
Speth jostled with industry officials and journalists to admire
Qoros' 3 Sedan, one of the show's most popular attractions.
"Mr Tata spent half an hour here yesterday," said Ofer,
whose Israel Corporation and state-owned Chinese
automaker Chery Automobile each own half of the
company. "He was quite amazed. He loved the car."
The 3 Sedan, designed by Gert Hildebrand, who designed BMW's
Mini, will be launched in Europe by the end of this
year, and plans to leverage western success to drive sales in
China, ultimately the company's biggest potential market.
"I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to see that
the Chinese car market is definitely going to grow," Ofer told
Reuters in an interview at the show. "Europe for the Chinese
validates the car. It gives them confidence."
The 3 Sedan, a compact sedan with a four-cylinder 1.6 litre
petrol engine, is expected to be priced below 20,000 euros
Ofer, who inherited his father's chemicals, oil and gas and
transportation empire, is Israel's richest man with a net worth
of $6.5 billion according to Forbes magazine.
And he is not a stranger to the car business.
Ofer's car battery swapping business, Better Place, sought
to redefine the electric vehicle industry, though it has been
hampered by a slower-than-expected take-up in vehicles. The two
ventures could help each other, Ofer says.
"China will eventually go electric," he said. "There's
definitely synergy ... We need to establish Qoros as a company.
We cannot go pure electric from day one but once we are on safe
ground, we can start combining forces."
Qoros is not the first Chinese-made car brand to make a play
in Europe. Previous attempts by Chinese marques have been
scuppered by concerns over safety and quality standards.
Convincing Europeans of Qoros' quality will be key.
"It's a big hurdle," said Volker Steinwascher, the company's
vice president. "We're shooting for a five-star rating ... an
international company making an international product."
($1 = 0.7677 euros)
(Editing by Mark Potter)