The project is the brainchild of Bulgarian tycoon, self-professed patriot Grisha Ganchev. His Litex firm raised 90 percent of the €97 million (US$130 million) needed to build the plant, with Great Wall providing the last 10. The Bahovitsa plant is expected to produce 50,000 sedans, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles a year, although the models and technical specifications have yet to be released.
The plant is expected to generate 1,220 jobs in coming years. The Chinese company chose Bulgaria in order to secure a relatively low-cost foothold in the European Union. “The local people hope that this factory will mean work. The global economic crisis is felt here like everywhere, and many jobs were lost,” explains Plamen Likyov, the production manager at Litex.
The picture is not as rosy as it might sound at first, as Chinese automakers might not be able to achieve the level of fit and finish demanded by European customers. “They bring in the kit and reassemble the car, and there’s not a lot of automation. You really want to pay attention when it’s a full-scale assembly plant. They can cost $500 million to $1 billion. When you see a Chinese automaker taking on that kind of investment, then you know they are serious,” said David Sedgwick, the editor of Automotive News China in a recent New York Times article.
Mr. Granchev and Great Wall are not concerned, believing there is a market for Chinese cars produced at low cost in Europe. “Our equipment will be very good and our price will be very competitive. That’s a characteristic of Chinese manufacturers,” agrees Andy Liu, Great Wall’s Deputy Head of European Marketing.