The Wall Street Journal is today reporting (paid subscription required) that General Motors plans to become the first auto maker to import and sell Chinese produced automobiles in the United States. The automobile producer reportedly plans to sell the Buick Envision, a midsize sport-utility vehicle early next year.

The report cites informed sources as indicating that the vehicle will be produced in Shandong province, and will add a third SUV to Buick’s model lineup. Initially, GM plans to import a modest number, indicated as between 30,000 and 40,000 Envisions annually, and the move signals a strategic shift and a bold experiment by GM.

The Buick brand is a well-respected and top brand within China, dating back to earlier times when China’s top government officials rode in chauffeured Buicks. The report observes that nearly 100,000 Buicks were sold in China just last month, compared with fewer than 19,000 sold in the U.S.

According to the WSJ report, by adding a third crossover model GM fills a product gap while accelerating efforts to compete with other foreign and domestic based automakers. However, GM officials indicated to the WSJ that this move is not one related to cost-saving.  That obviously remains to be seen as this strategy unfolds.

Buick’s most popular SUV offering is the Encore which is currently produced in South Korea. The second model by sales is the Buick Enclave, a large SUV crossover produced in the United States.

The article opines that the arrival of a Chinese produced model is likely to rile the United Auto Workers which caught rumors of such an announcement during the summer.  However, the report indicates that the UAW and GM discussed this move during recent labor talks and appear to have come to some understanding.

GM’s latest move obviously represents confidence that a Chinese produced vehicle can meet or exceed the safety and product feature requirements demanded by U.S. consumers. Supply Chain Matters concurs that this strategic move will be closely watched by other industry players. Depending on the outcome and the response from U.S. consumers, we may well observe other China produced vehicles offered to the U.S. market in the not do distant future.