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Photo Report: The cars of Ürümqi, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China (Part 1/2)

Urumqi street scene (Click on any image to enlarge)

After Beijing and Chongqing, we now travel to Ürümqi in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region at the extreme West of China. As described in my previous article The cars of Chongqing – Central China, the Chinese hinterland is going to absorb most of the country’s new car sales growth over the next decade so I thought we may as well push it to the extreme and explore the province capital furthest from Beijing, a whopping 2.400km away. In fact, Ürümqi – pronounced Yooloomooshee – is physically and culturally closer to Almaty (Kazakhstan), Kabul (Afghanistan), Lahore (Pakistan) and Samarkand (Uzbekistan) than it is to Beijing. The majority of the population is Muslim and most Chinese road signs are dubbed in Arabic and sometimes in Cyrillic.

Shanghai Englon SC6 in Ürümqi

Compared to Beijing and even Chongqing, observing the Ürümqi car landscape is like plunging into a parallel Chinese universe, one foot in the past and one in the future. On one hand some of the traffic looks like it’s still stuck in 2006: most taxis are bruised and battered VW Jetta, Santana and Santana Vista accompanied by a regular flow of Citroen Fukang and first generation C-Elysée. On the other hand Ürümqi may prefigure what most of Western China will look like in the not-too distant future…

Zotye T600

Much has been said about the potential that China’s less developed regions will ‘fall’ for their own Chinese cars much more so than the Eastern Coast when they start buying new vehicles en masse. I had not really seen this in Chongqing but in Ürümqi it is already and strikingly true. But the surprising element is that the popular Chinese models in Ürümqi were not the ones I expected based on the national sales charts, and by far: an entire swath of the Chinese production, struggling a little nationally and merely spotted in my last two stops, suddenly took centre stage.

Shanghai Englon SC7

Shanghai Englon SC3

Let’s first start with a rough estimate of around 40% of the Ürümqi traffic being Chinese vehicles, a clear improvement on Chongqing but most interestingly it seems that this ration is improving based on the amount of brand new Chinese cars I saw in the streets. Basically the budget end of the Chinese production is extremely popular in Ürümqi, starting with Geely’s brand Shanghai Englon. I never imagined I would see so many SC7, SC3 and SC6 (in this order) in a single day!

Great Wall Haval H6 and Shanghai Englon SC6

Gleagle GX7

The Shanghai Englon logo was everywhere and this was my biggest surprise of the visit. Geely’s Gleagle GX7 is also very successful here, Emgrand, less so. However I don’t see the death of the Englon and Gleagle brands announced by Geely being an issue here as the Geely brand has a strong heritage through the CK and MK models.

Facelifted Dongfeng Fengshen S30

Dongfeng Fengshen H30 Cross and Buick GL8

In fact the lower you go into the price range the more chances it will be successful in Ürümqi.  Second case in point: Dongfeng’s Fengshen budget sub-brand, very frequent here: the S30 (both new and old), H30, H30 Cross and A60 all have the favours of the Urumqi car buyers.

Great Wall Voleex C30

Next in line is the Great Wall Voleex C30, also everywhere in Ürümqi. Confirming the Chinese budget trend described above, there were very few Haval SUVs (especially compared to Chongqing) and an ok but not exceptional amount of Great Wall Haval H6 – meaning they are now at least one year old as the Haval rebranding happened in mid-2013.

Chery QQ

Among other Chinese carmakers almost inexistent in Beijing and Chongqing but strong in Ürümqi, let’s first salute Chery: a strong heritage of QQ and a few new generation QQ spotted, I saw my first E3 and new Tiggo 3 here, and quite a few E5 and Tiggo 5.

Uyghur couple and Brilliance V5

Chana Star and Hawtai Santa Fe Police


Brilliance is also doing stronger across the entire range including the V5 SUV, GAC sells a lot of its Trumpchi GS5 SUV and Hawtai has managed to convince the local police to use its Santa Fe SUV. Unwise Choice! I also saw my first Haima2 and quite a lot of them after that.

Far from Beijing: signage is dubbed in Arabic behind a Venucia R50 ‘sport’

Logically, low-cost Chinese brands are doing great here, especially Venucia. I saw heaps of D50 sedans and quite a few R50 hatches, and a couple of Baojun 630 sedans as well.

Shanghai Maple Marindo

Discontinued since 2008, the Shanghai Maple brand is still surprisingly well represented in Ürümqi with the Marindo sedan not rare once you step out of the big boulevards. I also saw a lot of MG3 (the most I’ve seen in my trip so far and by a large margin) and my first FAW Xiali N7 hatch but surprisingly there is no Xiali heritage in Ürümqi at all. As you can see all the above brands find themselves mainly on the budget end of the price scale.

Wuling Rongguang

As far as minivans are concerned, the Chana Taurustar that dominated the traffic in Chongqing is still frequent but much less so in Ürümqi. Instead, the Wuling Rongguang, Chery Minivan, Wuling Hongguang and Sunshine (in that order) are the most popular here.

Jonway UFO A380

Finally for the discovery of the day: I saw two Jonway UFO A380 and was very intrigued by the ‘UFO’ logo… It’s basically a copy of the 2nd generation Toyota RAV4 from 2001… Even if I can see the Englon SC7, Great Wall Voleex C30 and Dongfeng Fengshen H30/S30 climb belong to the Top 10 best-sellers in Ürümqi and potentially the Top 5 for the SC7 which is a great achievement in itself and way up from their respective national rankings, this almost certainly doesn’t mean Chinese Passenger Cars actually top the sales charts outright here… But this is for Part 2 of this Photo Report to come shortly…

More photos below.

Photo Report: The cars of Chongqing – Central China

Chongqing street scene (Click on any picture to enlarge)

Now that you know the secrets of Beijing hutongs and the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show, we go on a bit of adventure inside China. First stop is Chongqing, one of the fastest-growing cities on earth, 1.500km South West of Beijing on the Yangtze river. Chongqing is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the biggest city in the world with 30 million inhabitants, however this is for the entire municipality and the city of Chongqing itself has “only” 7 million. Not bad for a city that most of us (me included before organising this trip) had never heard of.

So why Chongqing? Firstly because it is right in the middle of the Chinese hinterland, the region that will absorb most of the Chinese car sales growth within the next decade to bring it well above 30 million vehicles per year. I have detailed this assumption in my articles China: Light Vehicle Market to reach 30 million units by 2030 and China: How local brands may finally find their mojo at home. Secondly because it’s home to one of the biggest Chinese carmakers: ChangAn. And my visit answered a few questions I had…

Chana Taurustar

1. Are Chinese carmakers more successful in the Chinese hinterland?

The answer is yes. As discussed in China: How local brands may finally find their mojo at home, the part of China where Chongqing is located was assumed to be a more fertile playing ground for cheaper Chinese carmakers as the average revenue is still much lower than on the Eastern Coast. Yes the Chongqing traffic held many more locals than in Beijing where they hold a minimalistic 10-15% market share. But not that many. A survey of a thousand vehicles passing me by over a couple hours in Chonqing’s busiest intersections (no taxis, no buses) showed that only 1 in 3 was Chinese. This is in line with the national average, so a little disappointing. It would appear that even though the biggest cities of the Eastern Coast are the exception, that doesn’t mean Chinese carmakers actually dominate in the hinterland. And by far.

Chana Minibus

2. Is there a regional preference at play?

By this I mean: do Chongqing car buyers prefer manufacturers based within the municipality, namely ChangAn and its joint-ventures with Ford, Suzuki and Mazda. The answer is yes, yes and yes. And this is a fascinating find because it sheds a massive light beam onto regional sales in the entire country (detailed sales by region are unavailable for China). ChangAn and its LCV brand Chana are absolutely everywhere as I will detail further, but also the entire Ford range, including the Focus, among the top sellers here, the new Ecosport already frequent, new Mondeo and Kuga. Virtually all taxis are Suzuki SX4 sedans and I already spotted a couple of S-Cross.

Wuling Hongguang, Dongfeng Minivan and Wuling Sunshine

This trend is a little less true for Mazda, even though in one day I spotted 3 new generation Mazda6 which are supposed to only have started production a few weeks ago – but through Mazda’s joint-venture with… FAW. Perhaps (actually almost certainly) the Chonqing car buyer doesn’t differentiate between joint-ventures as long as the brand is known to be a regional one. Based on this marked regional preference and assuming it is similar in most parts of the country, I will endeavour to create a map of China detailing which brands should be dominant where soon.

Chana Honor

3. What are the most popular vehicles in Chongqing?

Reliable estimates are always very hard to produce based on only a few days in town, but 3 vehicles seem to stand out from the crowd in Chongqing – all minivans – in the following order: the Chana Taurustar (aka Taurus), although only launched a couple of years ago, has invested each and every tiny alley and huge motorway of Chongqing, always in the same light brown colour. I literally spotted hundreds of them in only 3 days in town. If we group all Chana minivans together like they are in Chinese LCV data, then it’s the #1 spot guaranteed in Chongqing.

The Suzuki SX4 sedan is the taxi of choice in Chongqing.

The Wuling Hongguang is another very popular vehicle in Chongqing (potentially #2), and its success here may bring some explanation to its national pole position: even in ChangAn/Chana country, the Hongguang still manages to convince buyers by the truckload. This is impressive because it comes on the back on very very few Wuling Sunshine spotted in Chonqing, even though until 2012 was the best-selling vehicle in the country. It means the Hongguang has managed to get traditional Chana minivan buyers to upgrade and change brands. This performance ‘away from home’, if repeated enough times across the country, would suffice to top the sales charts nationally.

ChangAn CS35

The Chana Honor broke the 20,000 monthly sales-mark China-wide for the first time last month, and based on my experience in Chongqing a lot of them are sold here! It could be rounding up the podium ‘at home’. As far as Passenger Cars are concerned, Volkswagen produces a regular flow of a variety of its models starting with the Lavida (including a few Gran Lavida spotted), Santana and Bora. The Sagitar, Passat and Jetta are much less frequent than in Beijing though.

Still, the Ford Focus should lead the charge here with the new generation seemingly doing much better than the old one. One model that could also potentially beat them all is the ChangAn CS35, already extremely frequent at home even though it is only one year old, and way more successful than the Eado for example although I sighted quite a few shining-new Eado XT hatches.

VW Gran Lavida

Apart from ChangAn/Chana and Wuling with the Hongguang, one Chinese brand that kept turning up at every corner is Great Wall with lots and lots of various generation H5, and the Steed by far the most popular large pick-up. Logically the new Haval brand is doing extremely well here as well with the H6 already well established and the H6 Sport starting to pop up here and there. It was striking to see that many Great Wall SUVs and only a few Chery Tiggo including one Tiggo 5 (below).

Chery Tiggo 5

Other Chinese carmakers spotted more often in Chongqing than Beijing include Brilliance, MG (I saw one MG5) and BYD (quite a few F3 Surui) for Passenger Cars, while I noticed a lot of Dongfeng Succe and Great Wall V80 MPVs. The variety of minivans in town put my model recognition skills to the test! Dongfeng and Hafei are very frequent of course, Karry a little less, and I discovered Jinbei minivans with a BMW-inspired grille (pictures below the jump). Lifan turns out to also produce minivans as well as BAIC. One great aspect of the Chinese car market: you never stop learning!

Bentley Mulsanne and Karry Youya

Another big surprise: the amount of luxury vehicles which as a percentage seemed higher than in Beijing! Many Porsche Cayenne, a few Porsche Panamera, a couple of new generation Mercedes S Class, Audi Q3 and Lexus and one Bentley Mulsanne paraded in front of me with pride…

Chongqing street scene

There were definitely more SUVs in Chongqing than there were in Beijing, with the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado a ‘macho’ favourite and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and VW Tiguan also appreciated. Finally, I had the honour of sighting my first two Toyota Yaris L (at the same intersection!) and first three Fiat Viaggio, all in burgundy.

Full Photo Report (25 Photos) below.

Photo Report: A voyage through Beijing hutongs

Chana Star in Dongsi hutong

The legendary Beijing hutongs are tiny, charming alleyways formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. An endangered species, the real Beijing lives and breathes in hutongs where a warm sense of community and hospitality survives. I was lucky enough to spend some time visiting hutongs during my short stay in Beijing, so here are some snaps for you. As you will see, the tiny streets have not discouraged hutong inhabitants from bringing their Cadillac SUV at their doorstep…

VW Santana taxi in Qudeng hutong

Great Wall M4 and VW Jetta in Dongsi hutong

Cadillac SRX in Dongsi hutong

Chana Star and a wall of bricks

Jinbei Haise and Kia K2 in Dongsi hutong

Nissan Sunny in Dongsi hutong

Hyundai Veloster in Dongsi hutong

Hafei minivan in Dongsi hutong

Wuling Hongguang in Dashilan hutong

New Chana logo (on Taurus only)

The Photo Report continues below with 10 additional pictures.