Are You Ready to Buy Chinese Cars?
After a hectic day at the 15th Auto Quangzhou - one of the four huge car expos held in China annually - I arrived at 3 truths:
1. SUVs are hugely popular in China, almost as many as they are in the U. S. There isn't one Chinese company that makes SUVs, there are many.
2. China is firmly embracing electric cars. Through October in 2017, 314,000 electric cars were delivered in the country, this is three times U.S. volumes, and sales were up 77 percent from 2016. Every company we visited is releasing hybrids - plug-in hybrids and battery electrics - and there was a general agreement that the global market is moving in that direction.
3. Chinese auto quality has increased, and that has motivated carmakers here to export their vehicles to the West. Right now, Volvo S90 is the only made-in-China car that Americans can buy, but by 2019 that will change. Germany is the first target and then the rest of Europe and then the U.S.
Walking through the giant halls, a pattern emerged; fairly conservative production designs and wild concept car. Changan is one of the four huge auto groups in China, reclaimed themselves the top-selling domestic brand. They produce three SUVs, plus the Benni and Eado EVs.
Changan's wild concept car.
Britain's respectable Rover is now named Roewe and in the SUV business in China. Speaking of venerable brands, Borgward is back. Could you still remember Borgward? My grandma had one. These were well-crafted by Germans, built from 1919 until 1963. Now the Borgward is back in China with a model of BX5, which is youth-oriented and BX7 SUVs, which is more traditional. According to Anders Warming, the chief design officer, the company will start marketing the Chinese-made cars in Germany, Switzerland and Austria next year. The U.S. could be next but no specific future.
MG (along with Rover) are also Chinese now, and this is the gorgeous E-Motion concept.
Another company with foreign expansion is Great Wall's luxury-oriented WEY, headed by ex-Audi executive Jens Steingraber. WEY has moved swiftly to become the SUV sales leader now in China, "A boxer can't become internationally known by staying in his village. We could be the first Chinese automaker to sell in volume in Europe." said Steingraber. And with a plug-in hybrid coming, he desires the company to be known for building green cars, too.
WEY, represented here by a concept car, is part of Great Wall and has global ambitions.
Lynk and Co. is launching an SUV, the 01. Han Yi, the general manager, informed us it's entering a tough market in China with lots of competitions from Japanese, European and American companies. But Lynk is determined to succeed not simply in China, but also in Europe too by 2019. Being asked if the 01 will have similar safety ratings as the Volvo, Han Yi said "yes."
The Lynk and Co. 01 has the Volvo XC40 underneath.
Trumpchi is another Chinese brand that's taken off like a meteor, having amazing track records from zero sales to millions of sales in just a few years. They have a design studio located in Los Angeles, so watch out for Trumpchis in near future. The company will be in the U. S. "eventually," we were told.
The backseat in the Trumpchi GM8.
The day after the motor show we drove an hour and a half into the countryside. We were given keys to some Chinese-made cars at the Haoting Fugang Speedway. I was anxious to try out and the cars weren’t bad. However, the Borgward and WEY should need further sorting if they want to export to foreign markets. That means more refinement, more power, firmer handling with less body lean, better tires, peerless fit and finish, and with more affordable price. The Borgward priced at 44,000 euros would get lost in a very very competitive market in Germany. The product being made in a lower labor market needs to be reflected in the price.
The Borgward on drive test. It's a European design but being built in China. Body lean and tire grip were issues. If priced right and refined the car could work in the West.
The WEY VV7 is a big step forward in Chinese quality auto makers, but needs a bit more refinement.
I didn't drive the BMW and turbocharged V-6 Mercedes Class. Anyway, this was a whirlwind introduction to the huge Chinese automotive market and I might be convinced that these carmakers can overcome the West quality to one day becoming as popular as Japanese and Korean cars in Europe’s streets. In my opinion, they are set to follow the Korean model of standards. Remember, Hyundai and Kia when they were first introduced to the global stage, how funny were they little economy cars?