Eyeing U.S. market, Chinese automaker may change Trumpchi brand name

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - When Chinese automaker GAC Motor was preparing to enter the United States market it foresaw challenges in product localization and regulation, but didn’t see any issue with the name of its flagship brand, Trumpchi.

Executives at the firm and its parent Guangzhou Automobile Group 601238.SS say they may now change the Trumpchi brand - which was meant to sound like its Chinese name Chuanqi, which is a play on the word "legendary" and means passing good fortune - after it drew some ridicule at the Detroit auto show in January.

“We saw people were laughing at this and took pictures looking only at this detail, and also put on Facebook or other websites,” GAC Motor Design Director Zhang Fan told Reuters. “When we read all that feedback, we realized it might not be very positive promotion for the brand.”

The company says any similarity between the brand name and that of the U.S. president was unintentional. Working from similar sounds to the Chinese name, GAC came up with “trump” for being the best and “chi” for China, Zhang said.

“This is a complete coincidence, we didn’t even have the slightest idea he would be president,” Feng Xingya, GAC Group President, said at the Shanghai auto show.

“At first I’d never thought of it, why change the name? It’s the president Americans selected, it’s similar to the president’s name, this has to be good right?” he added. “But in the United States the level of opposition (to Trump) is high.”

Trumpchi cars are generally priced below foreign brands, but the brand created around a decade ago has recently seen a surge in sales thanks to rapidly improving product quality. Parent GAC Group is China’s sixth-largest automaker by sales.

The southern Chinese automaker says it now expects to enter the United States in 2019, two years later than it initially hoped, after a management change. It says it is still working on products that meet U.S. regulatory and market demands.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Ian Geoghegan