SAIC Motor is among Chinese car companies sending executives to visit the Detroit show for benchmarking or to attend events on the sidelines. One such gathering is organized by the automotive division of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.
Paul Haelterman, vice president at IHS Automotive, said the Chinese had other near-term opportunities that were more attractive than the highly competitive U.S. market. They will place more priority on Latin America, Southeast Asia, Russia and even Africa before giving serious consideration to North America, he said.
For GAC that means focusing on markets in the Middle East and South America. It sold only 550 cars overseas last year, its first year in the export arena. In 2014, it aims to grow that almost tenfold to 5,000 cars.
In addition to being title sponsor of the International Table Tennis Federation World Tour, the company is also hoping to get an export lift from the on-screen debut of its Trumpchi model in this year's "Transformers 4" movie.
Mr. Russo, the auto industry analyst, said eventually leading Chinese car makers will make it in America. "The best Chinese car companies are probably five years away, the others a decade," he said.
—Rose Yu contributed to this article.
Write to Colum Murphy at