This is Part 2 of my ranking of the most impressive Chinese carmakers at Auto Shanghai 2015, you can see Part 1 (#35 to #21) here. Today we are going from #20 to #11, and the manufacturers are now getting pretty smart. All the justifications behind the ranking are below.
20. (26) Chery
Last year Chery bored me, so I expected nothing from this manufacturer in Shanghai. And I was pleasantly surprised. A company with strong sales always gets my attention and contrary to what I predicted a year ago the Tiggo3 (#54 so far in 2015), Chery 2 (+83% to #80) and Tiggo5 (#100) are faring solidly indeed. The truth is, Chery’s glorious times at home are so far in the past that the carmaker is now hungry again. And it showed on its Shanghai stand. The sales guy was eager to jump in the new Tiggo5 1.5 Turbo and describe it to me in detail, also asking for my feedback on the car. All smiles, professional but not pompous, friendly but not casual. I liked the approach.
To top it off the interior quality of the Tiggo5 was much better than I remembered, or Chery has improved it specifically for this variant. I may not agree with the Arrizo and Tiggo sub-brand strategy but at least Chery does treat them as sub-brands: all Chery models feature… the Chery logo. Seems logical but go tell that to BAIC… And there seems to be some kind of logic behind the sub-brands: Tiggo has only SUVs and Arrizo has all the rest: for now the 3 and 7 sedans and the M7 MPV. You are on the right track Chery.
19. (9) JAC
JAC made the mistake of locating its passenger car stand in the premium exhibition hall, just next to DS and Lincoln and the only Chinese manufacturer in the entire hall. They should have swapped their location with FAW Hongqi, but more on this later. In comparison with its hall neighbours, JAC’s cars, mostly white, look positively cheap, but even when removing the comparison effect, JAC’s delivery on the passenger car side was uneven. Some very interesting interior designs, and I applaud the launch of the Refine S2 SUV which will undoubtedly be a sales blockbuster with a design a lot less confronting than the Refine S3 – #2 SUV overall in China in March.
But the logos were all over the place: the Audi A4-copycat A60 features the blue logo of the MPVs, none of which were open to media, whereas all passenger cars and some commercial vehicles have a star logo, pickups have a red logo and it goes on. Who would have though one brand could come up with so many permutations of the 3 letters forming its name?
The reason why JAC doesn’t rank further down is its sophisticated commercial vehicle stand. With a smart black and red colour scheme, it was by far the best-looking stand of the entire commercial exhibition hall, the hostesses were very attentive and gave brochures in a carry-bag that you would rather expect from a posh passenger car brand. A few things to to move around for JAC next year, a good effort overall but seems only skin-deep.
18. (-) Huasong
Each Chinese Auto Show brings its lot of new brands: last year in Beijing it was Leopaard (ranking very high this year) and this time it is Huasong, the third marque under the Brilliance umbrella along with its namesake brand and Jinbei. It’s always a surprise to look into the next stand, not recognise the car, look up and find a new brand altogether. Only in China. In market since March. Huasong presents the 7, a 7-seat luxury MPV with prices ranging from 237.700 to 287.700 yuan (US$38.300-46.300), making it one of the most expensive Chinese vehicles currently on sale.
The saleswomen were friendly, smiley and speaking English, gladly translating the name Huasong to me: “brilliant and bright”, keeping in mind Brilliance in Chinese is zhong hua. The product ticks the Chinese premium exterior design box (looking like a Volkswagen), the stand was polished, understated, and gave away branded bottles of water – the only ones in the entire Show (!).
Yet Brilliance needs to hire someone to design better-looking interiors real quick, and was it really necessary to create a 2nd brand specialised in MPVs which basically sells more luxurious Jinbeis? I’m yet to be convinced.
17. (7) Zotye
Little Zotye has grown. Too fast? Since Beijing when Zotye got my heart’s vote, the manufacturer has seen sales of its T600 SUV shoot up like a rocket, and its presence in Shanghai was in a different, bigger world altogether. Zotye has been hard at work and had no less than 5 new models exhibited at Auto Shanghai, the most of any Chinese manufacturer. The Zhima E30 EV and E200 EV give Zotye an impressive EV lineup, the Z700 is the brand’s new flagship, already bumping the Z500 atht went on sales a couple of months ago, the Damai X5 is a new SUV that should take Zotye sales to the next level and the T600 concept reminiscent of the Haval concept R (more on this later) and that should logically give birth to a most welcome T600 Sport a la Haval H6 Sport.
Sadly, with all this activity, it would seem Zotye lost all the spontaneity that made them so likeable last year. The stand is big, yes, but also impersonal and cold, the sales people were polite but mute, and Zotye was one of only two Chinese manufacturers that had two storeys in their stand, but the stares of the sales people there and the E200 closed to media quickly made you understand you were not wanted up there. Last but not least: the Damai X5 SUV’s naming is messing up with my brain (why not T500?) and it has a different logo on its grille! Nooooo! Little Zotye has grown into a spoiled kid. Disappointing.
16. (22) JMC
If Beijing had a lot of extravagant concept cars, notably from local manufacturer BAIC, Shanghai is painfully lacking in any extravaganza, the absence of starlets sexying up the cars not helping at all either. Until you step onto the JMC stand. Nothing to declare on the ‘normal’ range exhibited: the S350 is still ok-looking and robust, but my oh my what concept cars have you got for us this year JMC! Outstanding, outlandish and outrageous: the Yuhu pickup (love the name – imagine launching that and calling it Yoohoo) and Yusheng S330 SUV look like two baby pitbulls eagerly waiting for their master’s “Go fetch!” signal, tongues out, before they jump into the water. I don’t normally get that excited about concept cars but there, I just did for these two. Fun.
15. (21) Lifan
Lifan, kicking goals in some export markets like Brazil and Russia, is very discreet at home, with no model ranking inside the Top 100 over the First Quarter 2015. Their flagship, the 820 sedan presented in Beijing, took one full year to launch and the carmaker still produces some of the cheapest-looking and -feeling interiors in the whole of China. Yes but. Lifan’s two best-selling models so far in 2015 are both SUVs: the X60 is up 32% to #105 despite its age, and the X50 is already #148 even though it only launched a few months ago. Lifan understands that the key to its sales stepping up to the next level is an increased presence in the booming SUV segment, and it hasn’t wasted any time in putting this plan into action.
In Shanghai, Lifan’s SUV lineup instantly doubled in size, with the imposing X70 now topping the range and the pocket-sized X40 destined to undercut the Haval H1 in price. The exterior design is in very frank progress with these two SUVs, the naming conventions are respected and logical and the staff was clearly delighted to see me take pictures of their cars, making sure I had full access to them. There’s still a long way to go but you are doing it right Lifan, by putting all your energy in the one direction that matters right now in China: S.U.V.
14. (19) Roewe
As the more premium brand in the Shanghai-based SAIC Group, Roewe was given the largest stand of any Chinese manufacturer at the Show. No expenses were spared, with a stadium-like terrace for the public to sit, recharge their phone and get a bird’s view on this exhibition hall completely dedicated to SAIC and its joint-ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen. The separation with the other domestic brands in the SAIC stable, Maxus and MG, was clear, the focus on new energy vehicles was on-trend, notably with a cool matte blue 550 plug-in hybrid and a 950 fuel cell. Then the 950 impressed me with a very mature yet dynamic and stylish design. But it all lacked a bit of spark.
By aspiring to be premium, Roewe is dangerously verging into the pompous area, which would be kind of acceptable if they actually were premium. But they are not there yet, and by far: the product delivery, once you step inside, is very uneven. The impressive 950 and 550 are totally let down by a very bland, very flimsy and very cheap 350. I can see what you’re doing there Roewe and I’m liking some of it but the word I’m looking for is consistency. Plus I will blame you for the most incomprehensible hierarchy of truck brands I have even seen – over in the commercial vehicle area.
13. (15) Maxus
Cleverly positioned in-between Roewe and MG on the SAIC stand so as the two passenger car brands don’t ‘touch’ each other, Maxus impressed me once again with a stand 4 times bigger than in Beijing, a very classy and sophisticated interior for the G10 added to both a zero emission EV variant and a premium edition complete with a water boiler for sipping green tea on the move, showing that Maxus is moving at the right speed.
But the main reason Maxus ranks higher than both its SAIC counterparts Roewe and MG is because of one of its sales people, Blade, who had the right answer to every question I asked – which is no mean feat. A sticker proclaiming ‘hot sale in Australia’ on one of the Maxus M80 got my attention. As soon as I snapped it, Blade was happy to detail the M80 is sold under the LDV brand there and when he learnt I lived in Australia it was like I made his day. He knew exactly how many M80 sold each month in Oz in the past year, was up-to-scratch about all its competitors in the market and announced the G10 would be launched there in mid-year. Good work!
12. (3) GAC
Don’t be alarmed by this fall from GAC compared to last year, just a proof that all Chinese manufacturers have improved greatly year-on-year, and GAC has confused me a little in Shanghai. This is one of the most ambitious Chinese manufacturers around, announcing at Auto Shanghai their plan to launch the all-new GS4 SUV (introduced here) in the US by 2017, they arguably currently produce the best Chinese car designs. Their GA8 new flagship hits all the marks with interior quality in the Top 3 Chinese with the Geely GC9 and Roewe 950, the GA6 has some of the comfiest seats for a Chinese model, compensating a hollow closing door sound, and with the GA5 Range extended EV GAC ticks the new energy box as well.
But this only applies to the Trumpchi (sub?)brand. Clearly GAC is trying to isolate Trumpchi from the rest of its lineup with a big Trumpchi sign on the back wall of their stand and Trumpchi big letters on the back of their SUVs. But is it a brand yet? All Trumpchi models still have a G logo for GAC, who confused us even more by displaying some of the models they produce through their joint-venture with foreign carmakers: the GAC-Honda Vezel, Odyssey, Accord and GAC-Fiat Ottimo were all on the GAC stand, along with a rather good-looking all-new GAC Gonow GP150 pick-up. A clear brand strategy would place GAC much higher in this ranking.
11. (5) Dongfeng
Within a Dongfeng passenger car stand rather austere, the new L60 sedan stands out with a clear improvement in interior quality notably the seats, and with a nice touch indicating the connection with Peugeot: a small French flag on the seats. The Number 1 concept is now the brand’s flagship and the good news is its impressive design has been untouched compared to the model presented at Beijing last year. Plus, Dongfeng ticks the new energy box with a cute-looking E30L, and having a UN Humvee on your stand is always a welcome diversion.
This passable mix doesn’t deserve a No. 11 ranking I hear you say, and you would be correct. Dongfeng earns this ranking by delivering a consistently robust performance across all its numerous stands disseminated throughout the Show. The Trucks stand has the most respectful staff of any stand in that hall, holding my bags while I climb on the truck, and would you believe they have a little salon with stools, coffee tables and a TV playing a classical music concert! Talk about confidence.
The DFSK light commercial vehicle stand has a different vibe altogether but very much in sync with the brand in that category: helpful, practical and very friendly. And the staff are savvy: they could tell the price of each model in US$ instantly. As a car sales nerd I particularly liked the ‘most exported mini truck’ sticker: I learnt something today. All-in-all, Dongfeng seemed to be in control of its brand image in all the different categories of vehicles they are involved in and ready for the next stage of their development, which I can’t wait to witness.