This is Part 2 of our coverage of the 2018 Beijing Auto Show on the 15 Chinese brands you must know about. You can check Part 1 (11. to 15.) here. Our last article was a mix of impressive showings and a couple of odd ones whose performance was so striking (not in a good way) that it was worth a mention. We now decidedly go up the ranking towards the top of the crop, and this time we detail the Chinese brands ranked from 6. to 10.
Traditionally given a distinct section of the FAW stand at major Chinese Auto, 2018 is the year of the liberation for Hongqi. This time it was offered its own gigantic stand, itself larger than the FAW booth… The centre piece was an extravagantly painted femme fatale-looking concept that perfectly plays the role of dreamboat and halo for the entire brand. We have been fans of the Hongqi brand for a long time now, as its unique positioning as the only true Chinese prestige brand is a marketing goldmine. And it looks like FAW has finally caught on the idea too.
There was a seemingly sales-ready surprise on the Hongqi stand: the E-HS3 SUV, which I will assume is an EV also, whose interior may look a little rushed but would be the perfect tool to lift Hongqi sales in China from confidential to substantial. The H5 was also here, both in its standard version and a raced-up CCDC model that took the Hongqi brand in a sporty direction I had not seen before. Hongqi is starting to make (realistic) waves, and we’re listening. Below: H5 interior (left) and E-HS3 interior (3 rights).
At each Chinese Auto Show I’ve been to lately, Baojun has greeted me with an all-new nameplate that’s ready to sell. After the 530 SUV at Guangzhou last November, Beijing 2018 is no exception with the 360 MPV, except this time I knew about it in advance. Once again ditching Wuling to focus solely on Baojun (the Hongguang S3 has had its time under the limelight and is now selling like dim sums, so no need to push it any more), SAIC-GM managed to impress with a transformed stand that for the first time included a 2nd floor complete with boxed display of a second 360 à la Volvo. Very posh.
But that’s not why we’re here and once again Baojun delivered the goods with the 360. If you get past a generic (but up-to-date) exterior that could have been borrowed from Volkswagen, the interior punches way above its weight again with a streaky matte beige material covering a large part of the cockpit and looking a lot more premium than the 60.000 yuan (US$ 9.400 / 8.000€) it is likely to start at. Also, the drivers’ seat is electric, as it is in the 510 and 530! This is one of my pet hates when it’s not, such as the – wildly more expensive – Peugeot 3008 in Paris in October 2016. The format of the car is interesting in itself, a lot more station wagon than low-cost MPV which should help it avoid cannibalising the 730 too much. Now let’s wait to see the 360 climb up the Chinese sales ladder.
Although the CS9 and CS10 SUVs have been solid successes, they are now starting to date, with Leopaard sales down 5% in 2017 and a more worrying 19% in March. Cue an instant doubling of the brand’s modern lineup in Beijing and a well-deserved spot within the Top 10 Chinese carmakers. On the big stage was the towering all-new Mattu SUV with its gigantic grille and chiselled features. The Mattu is here to confirm – if needed be – that the Chinese have made phenomenal progress in terms of exterior design and, in their eager push to impress the world, they sometimes go overboard, daring what more conservative Western brands would only dream of. This is the case with the Mattu.
And the impressive features don’t stop when you step inside, on the contrary. The dashboard features one giant digital screen that compares favourably with the one sported by the new generation Mercedes A-Class, while materials, shapes and touches are all top-notch. A very impressive effort here by Leopaard. One element that also was very refreshing is the decision to link all its models with the design of the back of the car featuring similarly-shaped tail lights, also visible across the second novelty of the brand in Beijing, the CS3 (see below). This is an identity trait that no other Chinese carmaker has chosen.
But Leopaard had one more surprise for us in Beijing: the CS3 Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), nicely slotting below its existing CS9 and CS10 and giving the brand at once both one entry into the hugely popular small SUV segment and a credible swing at a high volume EV. Again the design does have a distinctive Leopaard identity both at the front and back. Leopaard has hit the bullseye, twice, in Beijing this year. Below 3 left: Mattu interior, right CS3 BEV back.
The Yudo EV brand is a very recent new entrant in the Chinese market, with the π1 clocking up retail sales since last November and the π3 only just getting started. Nevertheless, in Beijing the brand had already moved on to the next steps of its development, and bluffed me by presenting the all-new, larger π7, looking adequately sharp with its thin headlights, bulky bumpers and mandatory floating back roof – a design feature almost all Chinese carmakers have adopted in the past 12 months.
The fact that Yudo is sticking to its naming system with its next offering isn’t lost on me and bodes well for the future logic of this brand. The cherry on top: a sexy crossover concept baptised Xπ, again, in line with the very unique π-led naming, showed off some interesting exterior shapes and stunning interior, and I won’t be too surprised if it translates into a completely new model by the time of the Guangzhou Auto Show this November or, at the very least, the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2019.
We got a teaser of BYD’s new design language, baptised “Dragon Face” and created by ex-Audi designer Wolfgang Egger, last year with the Song MAX MPV. But in Beijing it was splashed all over the BYD stand with this new, and very impressive indeed, Tang SUV. Along came the new Qin sedan and perhaps a little too much ‘copy-paste’ was used as the two are almost undistinguishable in photos – especially when sporting exactly the same red colour. Also, I can’t help but see a slightly tweaked Hyundai Elantra. But all is forgiven because it does look like BYD has got its mojo back and is once again ready to “Build Your Dreams”, as proudly stated on the boot of the Tang (see picture gallery at the end of this article).
Step inside the new Tang and all materials and layouts are positively refined, the door clomp sounds and feels heavy and important, and there’s one party trick I haven’t seen in any other vehicle so far: a large (that’s the norm) and rotating (less so) touch screen you can shift from landscape to portrait at will. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but then why didn’t anyone think of this before? Below: Tang interior and BYD SUV concept.
BYD closes out our Beijing 2018 Top 10 carmakers you must know about, stay tuned for the final iteration of this series: ranks 1. to 5.