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China 2016 Photo: The cars of Xining, Qinghai province

Xining Railway StationXining Railway Station

After traversing the Australian Outback to Birdsville, it’s now time to resume our annual Chinese exploration. This article launches our new annual series of Photo for China. In 2014 we travelled to the extreme West of the country to the Xinjiang Uyghur province all the way to the border with Pakistan. In 2015 we flew north-east towards Harbin and up to Mohe, the northernmost town in China. For 2016, we have already detailed the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show as well as the cars of Beijing. This year we will advance to the geographical centre of the country to the Qinghai and Sichuan provinces.

Location of Xining in China

Our first stop is Xining, the capital of the Qinghai province and the largest city on the Tibetan plateau, located on its eastern edge. Its 2.2 million inhabitants are a mix of Han Chinese, Muslim (Hui, Salar and Uighur) and Tibetan. Around one-third of the population is Muslim and there are around 80 mosques around the country, the biggest one being the Dongguang Grand Mosque (see pictures further down). The spectacular Xining Railway Station (pictured atop this article) was inaugurated last September with new high-speed rail services westbound to Ürümqi in Xinjiang Uyghur. The legendary Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest in the world, also starts here and ends in Lhasa but a special permit is required for foreigners to penetrate into Tibet and time was too limited for me to get one.

Zotye T600 VW Jetta Xining China 2016 Zotye T600 and VW Jetta

The vast majority of cars sold in Qinghai are sold in Xining, yet this is the 2nd smallest province in China in terms of new car sales with 80.000 units in 2014. Only Tibet (16.000) is smaller. Qinghai new car sales are however growing at lightning speed with a 25% gain in 2014. Out of China’s 31 provinces, only Guangdong (+26%), Hubei (+28%) and Chongqing (+38%) do better. Visiting Xining is a good opportunity to verify the provincial sales charts that had the VW Jetta, Santana, Haval H6, FAW Xiali N3 and Hyundai Verna in the lead. The first observation is that a large number of cars are white – more so than in any other Chinese city I visited. In Chinese culture, white corresponds with metal, represents gold and symbolizes brightness, purity, and fulfilment.  It also stands for West, which may also explain why Xining buyers choose this colour here as this part of China, although geographically central, is considered the “Far West” as most of the Chinese population is grouped along or near the eastern seaboard.

MG GS Xining China 2016MG GS and Zotye T600

1. Larger Chinese SUVs rule

This is the main eye-opening piece of news of the Xining car parc. Chinese SUVs launched within the past 18 months at most have taken centre stage here. They tend to be on the larger end. Zotye in particular has convinced many buyers to fall for its T600. I also spotted a handful of Damai X5 and the first SR7 of the trip here – a clone of Audi Q3. Other popular SUV offerings in Xining include the Leopaard CS10, MG GS, Changan CS75, Soueast DX7, Venucia T70, FAW Besturn X80, GAC Trumpchi GS4, Dongfeng Fengshen AX7, Haval H2, H6 Sport and H6 Coupe. I spotted the first Landwind X7 of the trip – the infamous clone of Range Rover Evoque (pictured below). Interestingly though, the hot-selling Baojun 560 hasn’t yet made its mark here. Among foreign SUVs, popular nameplates include the Buick Envision, Hyundai ix25, Kia KX3, Toyota Highlander, Prado and Ford Ecosport.

Venucia T70 Xining China 2017Venucia T70
Leopaard CS10 Xining China 2016Leopaard CS10Zotye T6002 x Haval H2, Foton Forland Pickup
Landwind X7 Changan CS75 Xining China 2016Changan CS75VW Jetta Taxi Xining China 2016VW Jetta taxis

2. Taxi repartition

The new generation Jetta taxi plays a very significant role in lifting the nameplate onto the Qinghai sales pole position. The old generation still reigns over the taxi parc along with the old gen Citroen C-Elysee, but the new Jetta is one of the most popular more recent models below the Toyota Corolla EX but above the new VW Santana. These nameplates account for over 99% of all taxis in Xining: I only spotted two Suzuki Alivio and no other nameplate.

Wuling Mini Truck

3. Light Commercials observations

The ubiquitous Chana and Wuling Mini Trucks stream through the busy streets in a town that seems to have accepted pickup trucks in its fore: the Great Wall Wingle can be seen in copious amounts, as well as the traditional one copy each of Ford F-150 Raptor and Toyota Tundra. I also spotted a few Kawei K1 (see below).

Chana Mini Truck

Chana Mini Truck Double CabKawei K1 PickupXining Dongguang Grand MosqueChevrolet Cruze
VW Jetta Xining China 2016
VW Jetta

4. Traditional cars

The share of hatchbacks is surprisingly high in Xining, with the Skoda Fabia a definite favourite. Chevrolet is strong (I spotted one facelifted Cruze – see above), but Nissan surprisingly isn’t, with only a couple of Sylphy and Lannia. The Fiat Viaggio has struck a chord with Xining buyers, the FAW Xiali N3 justifies its Top 5 ranking, Geely and Dongfeng sedans are extremely successful as is the Toyota Vios but the latest generation Corolla only seems to have arrived with just a couple of non-plated copies spotted. I also saw my first new gen VW Bora in Xining. Overall, roughly 35% of the Xining car parc is Chinese, that’s lower than 43% ratio over the first half of 2016.

The Full Photo Report is below, next we take a trip through Xining’s car dealerships. Stay tuned!

MG3, GAC Trumpchi GA3 and Wuling HongguangHaval H1, Nissan Qashqai and Citroen C-Elysee
GAC Trumpchi GS42 x Toyota Corolla EX in front of the Dongguang Grand MosqueGreat Wall Safe
Haima S5

The Photo Report continues below with 17 additional photos.

China 2016 Photo: The cars of Beijing

1. Hongqi H7 Beijing April 2016You won’t see many Hongqi H7 in the streets outside of Beijing and Shanghai…

This article launches our new annual series of Photo for China. In 2014 we travelled to the extreme West of the country to the Xinjiang Uyghur province all the way to the border with Pakistan. In 2015 we flew north-east towards Harbin and up to Mohe, the northernmost town in China. This year we will advance to the geographical centre of the country to the Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. But first, a quick tour through Beijing streets…

3. Ford Mustang Beijing April 2016Ford Mustang

This is the third time I visit Beijing since creating BestSellingCarsBlog. In 2013 we went through a series of Photo exploring the Great Wall of China and Beijing dealerships. In 2014 we explored the Beijing hutongs as part of the 2014 Beijing Auto Show. This year, the most striking element in the Beijing car parc is… its similarity to that of two years ago and the near-absence of really new nameplates. Contrary to all Chinese cities I visited over the past three years, Beijing cars are stuck in a time-warp.

Tesla Model S

The explanation is very simple: this freeze is a direct consequence of the license plate restrictions put in place in 2014 to limit pollution in the biggest cities of the country. It has, in the space of a couple of years, transformed Beijing into one of the ‘oldest’ car parks in China. That speaks volumes about how fast the rest of the Chinese car market is currently evolving. A few main further observations are to be noted…

Geely GC9

As detailed in our exclusive Chinese ranking by province, the premium and luxury segments reign over Beijing new car sales, with the Audi A6L astoundingly taking the overall lead, the VW Magotan in second place, the VW Passat in fourth, and the VW Sagitar (the worldwide Jetta – priced at a premium in China) in fifth. This translates into the Beijing car park with Audi, BMW and Mercedes omnipresent on the streets. A few Chinese flagships also make themselves noticed, such as the Hongqi H7 (pictured at the very top of this article) and Geely GC9. Considered as a premium import in China, the Ford Mustang is already spreading into the city with flashy colours.

Denza EV

Perhaps the most actively visible consequence of the license plate restrictions imposed on Beijing carbuyers is the increase in the number of eco-friendly cars, not affected by the restrictions. I saw my very first three Denza EV in Beijing only this year for example, as well as a handful of Tesla Model S, even though as an import it does get affected by the license plate restrictions.

Haval H6 CoupeThe new gen Hyundai Tucson is already a frequent sight in Beijing.

The SUV tsunami that is currently engulfing the Chinese market is only just pointing the tip of its wave in Beijing, with the Haval H6 Coupe very well accepted and the new Hyundai Tucson already a frequent sight. The Beijing SUV level however still lags far behind most Chinese cities.

BAIC Senova D50 taxi

The most frequent cars to be seen in Beijing streets are still taxis, and among them the Hyundai Elantra from three generations ago (!) kept nice and tidy solely for taxi companies. A few of them were indeed looking pristine. A newcomers in the taxi fleet since my last Beijing visit is the BAIC Senova D50. Here too, taxi companies remain patriotic to local products: both the Hyundai Elantra and the BAIC Senova D50 are manufactured in Beijing. It is also the case for the police car fleet, composed in large part of the previous gen Hyundai Tucson, still on Hyundai’s catalogue.

Buick Excelle GT

As I detailed in my 2013 Beijing Photo Report, Buick remains extremely strong here with the GL8 the perennial favourite of VIPs and the new Excelle GT off to an excellent start. Minivans are still surprisingly frequent, dominated by the Chana Honour and Jinbei Haise – in this completely unchanged over the past three years. Finally, on the first evening of my stay in Beijing I spotted the very first (and only) Renault Kadjar of this trip to China (pictured below). Stay tuned for the next stop in this China adventure: Xining, the capital of the Qinghai province.