TAIZHOU, China — After quitting his job as a senior engineer at Chrysler to join China’s fledgling domestic auto industry, Frank Zhao had a stark premonition.
“I saw the end of Detroit,” says 45-year-old Mr. Zhao, who now supervises 1,200 engineers building a new generation of vehicles for Geely Holding Group Co., one of China’s top-selling brands.
As Chrysler LLC and General Motors Co. close plants and shed jobs, Geely’s expansion plans are moving into high gear, showing how the crisis in the U.S. is accelerating a shift in the global auto industry towards China and other emerging markets.
“We are making progress,” says Mr. Zhao, the president of Geely’s research and development arm who moved back to his native China five years ago and joined Geely in 2006. “GM is big but moving down. We are small but moving up.”
Geely, with a group of financial backers, is now considered a front-runner in the bidding for Ford Motor Co.’s Volvo unit. A decision could come in the next several weeks, according to people familiar with the situation. That deal is taking shape just as another Chinese car company, Beijing Automotive Holding Co., is gunning for a 51% stake in GM’s Germany-based Opel unit. German officials have expressed concern that such a transaction could make the GM unit too reliant on the Chinese government.