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Beijing Auto Show 2018: 15 Chinese brands you must know about (3/3)

NIO ES8 headlights detail

This is it: we have come to the actual Top 5 Chinese carmakers present at the Beijing Auto Show that you must know about. If there is one article you must read, it’s this one. And keep in mind there is a lot more info on each of the 145 active Chinese carmakers in our Exclusive (and live) Chinese Brands Guide. This is Part 3 and the conclusion 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 and Part 2 (6. to 10.) here.

NIO Stand at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show

1. NIO

There’s no disputing this: the most impressive Chinese carmaker this year in Beijing is EV brand NIO. I was already given a hint at my arrival in Beijing Capital International Airport with a giant banner advertising their first on-sale model: the ES8 SUV (see below). Whereas it is the first time I see the brand in any Chinese (or international) Show, NIO leaps straight to the top of the list, including foreigners, with a gargantuan stand that could well be the outright largest in Beijing. No less than seven ES8 were showcased, all in different colours and all next to each other in an impressive display.

Giant NIO advertising at the Beijing Capital International AirportNIO ES8 – Very simple and cool gear shiftNIO ES8 door handle

But more than the stand, the car itself totally lives up to its expectations of a Tesla Model X competitor. The cockpit is very well finished and designed, and one advantage it has over the Model X is that it is actually very practical. The ES8 is a true seven-seat SUV which is the perfect format to conquer the Chinese market now that the one-child policy has been relaxed: the car can embark the parents, their two kids and three grand-parents. The obligatory giant touch screen is perfectly integrated into the central console and the vents are integrated into the design of the passenger side dashboard.

NIO Nomi AI assistant interactions

There are quite a few features in the ES8 that truly give it the edge, among them the sleek door handles and cool gearshift (see pictures above), but the piece de resistance is Artificial Intelligence Assistant Nomi (see two videos above). As NIO’s own Siri, Nomi responds to “Hi Nomi!” and can perform a variety of tasks from directing you to the next restaurant to opening the windows, telling a joke or taking a photo. Where Nomi becomes endearing is that it takes the shape of a rotating half sphere with blinking eyes that turns towards the source of the sound it’s hearing and responds with human characteristics. Needless to say it was the hit of the Show with the Chinese press – and myself.

NIO ES8 – No glovebox but cavernous storage space below the central bridge
NIO ES8 touch screen, Nomi AI (resting) and vent design
The ES8 is a true 7-seater SUV: the perfect format to conquer the Chinese market.

The NIO salespeople that swarm around the seven ES8 are all attentive and knowledgeable: they point out the car is priced between 348.000 and 448.000 yuan, that’s US$ 55.000-70.800 or 46.000-59.200€, once 100.000 yuan worth of EV subsidies have been deducted. Although it seems like a lot for a Chinese car (it is), that’s in fact almost one-third of the price of the Tesla Model X which will set you back between 888.000 and 1.4m yuan (US$ 140.400-218.400 or 117.400-182.600€). Would I like three ES8s instead of one Model X? You bet your weight in Chinese yuan I would.

Weltmeister stand at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show

2. Weltmeister

It’s also the first time I see Chinese carmaker Weltmeister (German for world champion) in any Show and the marque is already behaving like an established manufacturer. Whereas it only unveiled its first offering, the EX5, last December, the Weltmeister stand had no less than three novelties: a muscled version of the EX5 – the EX5 Pro, the upcoming EX6 SUV and the Isidera sportscar concept. But what brought everything together was Weltmeister’s composure: its stewardesses were all wearing Weltmeister jewellery (see below) and the brand unashamedly banked on the interest generated during the Public days by only allowing access to the stand to people who became friends with Weltmeister on WeChat (the local Facebook). Cunning.

Weltmeister EX5 ProWeltmeister EX5 interiorWeltmeister EX6

The interior of the EX5 itself is a mixed bag: some creative suede covering on the steering wheel, dashboard and doors, but some decidedly average plastics on both the central console and doors. The touchscreen is large enough, the door handles are new age like NIO’s and the whole package is definitely attractive so we forgive the EX5’s failings. Now we want to see the brand climb up the Chinese sales charts.

Weltmeister jewelleryWeltmeister Isidera Concept

Byton SUV Concept

3. Byton

We already knew the Byton SUV Concept had the largest touchscreen in the world when the brand unveiled it last January at the Las Vegas CES, but this was the first time I saw it in the flesh. Nothing disappointed, and here I’m of the same mind as the flock of Western executives that were examining the car’s every inch during the first Press Day. Byton confirmed they were sleek with very sharp overall but mainly head- and taillight designs, but they also showed us they can be funky as well with a turquoise model exhibited along with the more serious grey example that was shown in Vegas.

Byton SUV Concept dashboard

The world-record touchscreen is even more impressive in real and it was fully operative in both cars on display. The car also had a large touchscreen inside the steering wheel! Although I have my doubts on the practicality of such a placement – and its safety for that matter – you can’t help but applaud Byton for pushing the boundaries. The dashboard screen was advertised as able to play movies in widescreen format – again, would you really want to do that when you are driving alone? The possibilities for distraction are endless, but then again, if the Byton SUV turns out to have a reasonable amount of self-driving capabilities everything becomes possible. To top it all up, all materials inside the car showcased high levels of sophistication (see photo gallery below). Byton is one company I definitely can’t wait to follow over the next couple of Chinese Auto.

4. Jetour

Launched in January 2018, Jetour is a new Chinese marque by the commercial division of Chery – Karry – and dedicated to larger vehicles than the aforementioned brands. It is aimed at budget-conscious buyers in smaller cities and targets Baojun. With that context, the large Beijing Auto 2018 Jetour stand, the very first appearance of the brand in any Auto Show, went way beyond what I had expected of this newborn marque. It featured the brand’s first offering, the appropriately proportioned seven-seat SUV X70, in both sporty S and Coupe variants, as well as an aggressive-looking SUV concept. In a rare display of logical and transparent branding for a Chinese manufacturer, the Chery connection was indicated by a tiny “Chery Holding” mention on the stand’s giant screen and the brand’s brochures.

Beijing 2018 Jetour stand
Jetour Brochures and 2020 Lineup

An impressive feat for a brand we didn’t even know the name of just three months ago, Jetour has two sleek brochures to give us at the Show, including one named “Brand Brochure” explaining the marque’s purpose and philosophy. But the most striking piece of information that was openly shared in the brochures available to pick up was Jetour’s future launches (pictured above). Jetour is planning on having no less than seven nameplates on sale by 2020: four SUVs and three MPVs, all of them also available as EVs. On top of the X70, the X60 and X95 are already pictured in the brochure as well as their interior. A very ambitious plan indeed, communicated with attractive confidence.

Jetour X70 grille and interactive rearview mirror

Jetour salespeople were also pleasantly at the ready – sharing business cards that weirdly only displayed Chery and Karry logos – with one member making sure I didn’t miss out on the fact that the rearview mirror was interactive and could also take selfies. I’m just hoping that this only activates when you are not in movement and actually need the rearview mirror for its original purpose… It was a good idea to point this out to me because the rest of the interior is only okay, with a small touchscreen by Chinese standards and too much shiny black plastics, the only element in the entire Jetour picture that betrays its low-cost purpose inside the Chery universe.

Jetour SUV concept

COS 1°

5. COS

Along with Jetour, COS is another very impressive inaugural performance by a brand with humble beginnings. It is a new marque by the Oshan MPV division of Changan, like Jetour aimed at a rural clientele and Beijing acted as its official launch to the world. COS managed to hit the mark so accurately it eclipsed mothership Changan’s attempts at standing out. The COS stand was strikingly shifted from the line of the rest of the stands in the exhibition hall, appearing at a 3/4 profile angle (see below), already sending a message. The stand’s information desk was a mix of matte white and rounded bare wood that exuded quiet, down-to-earth sophistication.

Beijing 2018 COS stand: shifted at an angle vs. the rest of the stands in the Hall.

So far, so good. The brand’s logo, a blue dash sandwiched between two white lines, is enigmatic and may prove a hard choice to help establish the new brand’s name. Time will tell on this one. The marque’s first offering, the creatively-named 1° (for one degree), isn’t a copy of existing Changan models, which is a good start. The exterior design is modern, sober and toned down which goes against the rulebook of the extrovert traits that characterise rural customers – a risk has been taken here by being a little muted – but I do prefer this design direction. As for the interior, it is surprisingly well put together, a country mile ahead of the Jetour X70.

COS 1° interior

COS went all out on the 1° cockpit, at least for the models exhibited at the Show. A large touchscreen beautifully integrated in the dashboard, luxurious pattern on the tunnel and doors, Pioneer speakers artfully positioned alongside the inside door handles, matte-painted gearshift and gold-painted controls for the driver: this does look like a much more expensive car than what it is. The back passengers get a purified air vent, and the entire interior was fitted with dark blue leather. Hopefully this will be carried over to the on-sale models.

COS Oshan Concept

This concludes our coverage of the 2018 Beijing Auto. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. Now stay tuned for our traditional Photo of a new region of China (Inner Mongolia) as well as a new facet of our coverage of the Chinese car market: China Test Drives…

Beijing Auto Show 2018: 15 Chinese brands you must know about (2/3)

Hongqi E-Jing GT Concept

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.

Hongqi graduated to its own stand, and a big one to boot.

6. Hongqi

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.

Hongqi E-HS3

Hongqi H5 CCDC

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).

The 360 is another impressive launch by Baojun

7. Baojun

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.

The Baojun stand graduated to a second floor with boxed display à la Volvo.

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.

Interior materials are where the Baojun 360 really stands out (also below).


Leopaard Mattu

8. Leopaard

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.

Leopaard Mattu back and dashboard

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.

Leopaard CS3 BEV

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.

Yudo π7

9. Yudo

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.

Yudo Xπ Concept

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.

BYD Tang

10. BYD

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).

The BYD Tang’s party trick: a rotating touch screen

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 Qin: a certain air of Hyundai Elantra in my view

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.

Beijing Auto Show 2018: 15 Chinese brands you must know about (1/3)

WEY RS6

This is it: finally I can share with you the Top 15 Chinese brands you must know about at the Beijing Auto Show 2018. For reference, you can discover the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show here, the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show here and the 2016 Beijing Auto Show here. We will split this ranking in three articles and will start with the manufacturers ranked from 11. to 15.

The imposing WEY stand at the Beijing Auto Show 2018.

11. WEY

After starting (in my view) as mere duplicates of Haval models, the WEY brand is now bolstered by undeniable commercial success with 129.375 sales in 10 months since its launch in June 2017. The truth is Great Wall has managed in just one year to establish a full-blown brand that does compete at the very high end of the Chinese offering. The WEY stand was imposing, classy with a sporty zing as most models were red. Also, it was in a completely different exhibition hall than Haval so the two brands appeared to be unrelated, which is a good thing.

WEY VV6

In a typically Great Wall way (see also Haval further down), the flow of new WEY models seems bottomless. Along with the blockbusters VV5 and VV7 as well as the P8 plug-in hybrid, still to make its first appearance in the Chinese sales charts, WEY offered us two new vehicles to feast our eyes on. The VV6 slides in between the aforementioned two models, in order to – rather logically – secure every inch of market available, and its very sexy and rapacious sporty variant (I am assuming) the RS6, pictured atop this article. We like the direction this brand is taking.

WEY-X Concept

By now you may have guessed that I’m not a big fan of concept cars: in my eyes a car is only important from the moment it hits the sales charts. But the WEY-X does look appropriately spectacular while keeping a WEY family air (not as easy as it sounds), and its cockpit is deliciously futuristic. It’s all forgiven WEY, your concept is a pass.

12. Haval

We remain with Great Wall Motors to transition to the #1 SUV brand in China, Haval. The brand has been faced with declining sales both in 2017 (-9% to 849.554) and so far in 2018 (-19% to 180.523), perhaps not helped by the potentially cannibalising success of WEY. Not one to let go of the bone it is firmly holding between its teeth, Haval unveils new nameplates with metronome regularity. After the M6 at Chengdu last August and the H4 at Guangzhou last November, in Beijing we meet the F5 for the first time. And, surprise, it does look a little different from the rest of the Haval lineup, seemingly indicating the brand could be willing to explore even just a little.

Haval F5 detail

We will choose to overlook the new naming system – F?, why not simply call it H5 to replace its ageing namesake, or M5 to make the M6 less lonely? – because the interior features strangely cool red leather and the entire roof is made of class. The F5 demonstrates that Haval won’t just stay content and watch while WEY goes from win to win, and it’s great to see.

Haval H6

But it’s not just the F5 that impressed me in Beijing. Haval’s long-term best-seller, the H6, was looking mighty fine in its 2018 robe indeed, with a seemingly larger presence, tight exterior looks, and welcome new shapes on the dashboard with an artfully placed stop start button. In short, Haval is not leaving anything to chance when it comes to keeping the H6 at the very top of SUV sales charts in China. It doesn’t mean this will be achieved, with the Baojun 510 getting more threatening this year, but at least the brand is trying, and hard.

Lynk & Co PHEV

13. Lynk & Co

Five months ago at the Guangzhou Auto Show, Lynk & Co was the coolest Chinese brand around. Not that they’ve lost their cool this time around, but the novelty effect has eroded. Not to worry, the Geely semi-premium offering followed through in the same direction, even adding a toboggan on its stand to try and loosen up stuck-up members of the press. Like its rival WEY, Lynk & Co is far from resting on the laurels of the initial success of the 01 (25.000 sales in 4 months).

Lynk & Co 02

On its Beijing 2018 stand, Lynk & Co also had the 02 coupe-crossover, freshly unveiled in Europe, as well as the 01 PHEV. Let’s also keep in mind that the 03 sedan, presented as a concept in Guangzhou last November, is just about to see the light of day as a sales-ready nameplate. But Lynk & Co also earns its spot among the 15 Chinese carmakers you must know about at the Show because of a Press Event organised at the new Zhangjiakou factory, 3 hours northeast of Beijing, that I was invited to and will report on shortly. Stay tuned…

Ora iQ

14. Ora

Now you may have noticed I have titled this section the 15 Chinese carmakers “you must know about” and not “the most impressive”, this because of two culprits that are not per se impressive and that’s the big news. First off is Ora, the new EV brand by Great Wall. Yep, that’s on top of Great Wall pickups, Haval and WEY SUVs. Beyond the questionable necessity to create an entirely new brand for EVs rather than simply adding EV variants of its existing models, Beijing was the first opportunity to discover the brand in the flesh – so well worth a mention. Ora was given a branded slice of the Haval stand but not its own stand. That was a hint…

Ora space at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show.

Whereas I only had a spy pic of the iQ to play with before the Show, Ora generously provided not one but three vehicles in Beijing. Firstly, the iQ crossover. Although with a face that looks weirdly plastic, the truth is its silhouette – a mix of sedan, coupe and crossover – as well as its styling have nothing to do with what Haval and WEY have shown us so far. This is surprising and great news, meaning the Ora brand looks like it will write its own story.

Ora iQ details

It’s when you step inside that you realise Ora may in fact be just the EV compliance brand we had feared. The white materials and lines on the passenger side do look and feel good at the touch, however the central console is made of decidedly cheap plastic we haven’t seen in a new Great Wall Motors car this decade. Step in the back seat and the crude plastics on the back doors pull the car a couple of notches further down. The iQ wasn’t in the Ora space on the first Press Day: perhaps it was just hiding away from criticism…

Ora R1 and R2

The other two vehicles featured on the Ora space somehow lift the bar back up again, especially the futuristic-looking R2 (inside and out) while the R1, although pleasant, looks a little too much like a Smart Forfour. So we’re left scratching our head with the Ora brand. On the one hand the iQ falls flat especially inside, on the other hand it looks like Great Wall Motors is ready to spend some significant money to launch a couple of other models shortly and really establish the brand. Let’s wait and see, but for now it’s a no from me.

No need to bother – Lifan is stuck at the ultra low-cost end of Chinese carmakers.

15. Lifan

It’s pretty rare for me to single a brand out like Lifan at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show. But hopefully this, and more media reports, will be read by the brand’s executives and the start of a much needed transformation process will be initiated. Lifan is the most successful Chinese carmaker in export markets with Chery, and has been for a while, playing the low-cost card traditionally associated with Chinese brands. But times have changed, even more so for Chinese marques, and in the past five years almost all of them have made astounding progress design- and, more importantly, quality-wise.

Lifan X70 interior detail

Not Lifan. Stepping into the X70, shiny plastics that had their place in mid-2000’s Chinese fares and 1980’s Western models make a comeback – or rather, have never left Lifan models. The central storage unit has blunt pieces of metal sticking out and all opening and closing noises in the cabin sound like they come straight from a 1950 Land Rover. When you take into account the fact that cars featured at Auto traditionally are the top specs and even sometime spruced up to a level you will never see in real life in order to impress, that’s simply just not good enough. Lifan sales continue to slide at home (-12% in March) and it won’t be long until overseas markets get exposed to the latest and brightest from China. Then sadly, the brand won’t have any reason to exist anymore. It’s time to launch into the 21st century Lifan.

Stay tuned for the next iteration of the Top 15 Chinese carmaker you must know about Part 2 coming shortly…

Beijing Auto Show 2018: The 15 steady Chinese carmakers

Aiways RG – or is it the Roland Gumpert Nathalie? Confused.

After describing the Top 5 foreigners that made themselves noticed at the Beijing Auto Show, we get right into our traditional detailed coverage of the best performing Chinese carmakers at the Show. This post lists the 15 local manufacturers that held strong – all had at least one new model to present, which is more than what most foreign carmakers offered us – but there were some negative elements that counterbalanced their report sheet. This post is for the fans of the Chinese car market (like me) that want to stay up-to-the-minute on every development. If you only want to know the headlines, you may want to save your energy for the Top 15 most impressive Chinese carmakers coming shortly. This brings our coverage to 30 main Chinese manufacturers – far from the 150 currently active, but not all of them were present at the Show. For ease of reading we will go through this section alphabetically. There is a lot more info on each of these manufacturers in our Exclusive Chinese Brands Guide.

Aiways RG / Roland Gumpert Nathalie plug-in detailAiways SUV Concept

Aiways

New electric carmaker Aiways did not disappoint with the new RG sportscar: it is shaping up to be all we ever wanted from an electric performance car and more, at least design-wise. But, and there’s a but, as soon as it is born to the world this car already suffers from schizophrenia: it has no Aiways branding on it, instead a Roland Gumpert logo on its bonnet  and the section of the carmaker’s stand where it was exhibited had four imposing “Roland Gumpert” flags flying high. Plus the license plate of the car said “Nathalie”. We thought the car was called RG for Roland Gumpert, the Chief Product Manager of the brand, but now it looks like some trouble is on the cards and that this man doesn’t want his car to be called Aiways RG after all, rather the Roland Gumpert Nathalie. Confusing. A better bet for the brand at this stage is the SUV concept that did have all the Aiways branding signals we’d expect.

BAIC Offspace D70 and Senova X55

Beijing Auto

At home at the Beijing Auto Show, BAIC surprisingly did not show off like SAIC does at the Shanghai Auto Show or GAC at the Guangzhou Auto Show. Granted, it displayed a new generation Senova X55 crossover and we’re assuming that the Offspace D70 concept prefigures the next generation Senova D70 concept, but that’s about all it had for its name this year. Don’t get me wrong, this is more news than what the majority of foreign carmakers were able to produce but we’ve come to expect more, a lot more from the Chinese, especially when at home.

Why so cheesy?Pushing it a little here, Brilliance. A lot, in fact.

Brilliance

Only a few meagre months after the world premiere of the V6 crossover at the Guangzhou Auto Show last November, Brilliance was on point with yet another, larger, crossover, the V7 which isn’t a bigger variant of the V6 but an all-new model. This is impressive, even though the brand’s flagging sales need all the help they can get. Two cracks to this beautiful picture: Brilliance is taking the piss on its engine that features the line “Supported by BMW Group Technology” – a meaningless sentence, only to say that Brilliance and BMW are engaged in a joint-venture to locally produce vehicles, –  in a way that only shows the word BMW (see picture). Lame, and worse: it might just work in the Chinese market. Secondly, their public song and dance was cheesy and cheap, cancelling the prestige the brand could have gained from clamouring its association with BMW.

Chery Tiggo 8

Chery

With clockwork regularity, Chery has been presenting one new SUV at every major Chinese Show in the past few years. This time is the Tiggo 8, a much-needed 7-seat SUV that now acts as the flagship of the brand’s lineup. The design has matured and is now distinctive and among the best Chinese, in and out, but the materials and the overuse of shiny smooth black surfaces on the dashboard mean it does not quire hit the mark.

Dongfeng Fengguang ix5

Dongfeng

Ever generous, Dongfeng had two new SUVs on its stand this year: the Fengxing T5 (why oh why can’t you stick with one naming system?) which seems like it is another variation on the Fengxing/Joyear X5 launched last year, and the much more interesting coupe-like Fengguang ix5 – again, where is this naming system coming from? – a very uncharacteristic format for what is in essence the low-cost sub brand of Dongfeng. A solid performance, if a little illogical, but nothing truly outstanding – notwithstanding a sportscar concept that didn’t premiere at the show and looks so far from reality it’s not worth mentioning.

Everus EV Concept

Everus

One of two Honda low-cost brands along with Ci Ming, we thought Everus was dead and buried and for this reason we didn’t bother including it in our Exclusive Chinese Brands Guide. However, it would appear the brand is raising from its ashes like the phoenix, now – quite logically, as it turns out – transformed into an electric marque. This EV Concept is nothing out of the ordinary but it proudly featured on the main stage of the Honda stand (not hidden on the side like most foreign brands’ electric offerings). A much brighter future now seems to await the brand. Time to update our Brands Guide…

Is it Bestern (grille) or Besturn? Junpai becomes Jumpal   A fine looking FAW Senia R7C
But is Senia now a brand?And why does the Senia R9 banner sport Besturn branding?

FAW

The First Auto Works stand was its usual mess of sub-brands all fighting for attention, yet this year it seemed the distinction between brand and sub-brand is one that FAW has now decidedly given up trying to explain for good. The big news is the Senia R9, a crossover aiming right at the core of the booming end of the Chinese market, yet it sported a Senia logo on its grille and steering wheel. Should we graduate Senia to full-blown brand? But it had the Besturn branding on its banner? What of Jumpal? (we thought it was Junpai) And is it Bestern or Besturn? Both names featured on and near the spectacular SUV concept exhibited on the stand. So many questions…

GAC Trumpchi GM6

GAC

Lately GAC Trumpchi seems like Midas, transfmoring into gold every single new launch: GS4, GS8, GS3, GM8… Were the brand starting to pant a little and had nothing new to show in Beijing, it would have been more than understandable. That was underestimating GAC. Hoping to build on the success of the GM8 and doubling-down on their pastiche of their targets the Buick GL8 and GL6, a sharp-looking GM6 made its appearance on the marque’s stand. Its interior was blacked out and the doors closed, so it may be a while before we see it point its bonnet in the Chinese sales charts (and that’s the negative aspect of this review) but bonus points for keeping the flow of novelties steady and attractive.


Geely Concept Icon and Emgrand GE interior

Geely

That the best-selling Chinese brand at home doesn’t show in the Top 15 most impressive local carmakers in Beijing is in itself a testament of how dynamic the local car industry continues to be. The reason behind this “downgrading”: the only new model on the – posh, stylish yet approachable – stand was the Emgrand GE, a PHEV variant of the brand’s flagship sedan, the Borue. It features an impressive touch screen seemingly running the entire length of the dashboard, although this is an optical illusion as there is in fact one large screen and some graphics on the right. The glass pan does look the part though. With the Icon Concept SUV, Geely also previewed a new design direction for the brand, but it kind of looked like a hastily masked Citroen C3 Aircross. Fear not, we’ll see further in our China Reports for 2018, Geely had one mighty terrific surprise in store for us… To be followed.

Hanteng EV and MPV

Hanteng

Just when we thought Hanteng was a two-hit wonder (the X5 and X7 SUVs), here comes two new models: a small electric crossover and an MPV. There was something rushed and a tad bland about these two models whose doors couldn’t open. We want to see them in market fast, and it doesn’t look like it will be the case. But Hanteng has surprised us before with facelifts of their two first SUVs appearing only a year after introduction. Let’s wait and see.

Hybrid Kinetic stand
Hybrid Kinetic K350 interiorHybrid Kinetic H500 detail

Hybrid Kinetic

Hybrid Kinetic is a new energy marque based in Hong Kong launched last year at the Geneva Auto Show. After the H600 sedan from the 2017 Geneva Auto Show and the K550 (five seats) and K750 (seven seat) SUVs from the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show, here come two additional concepts in Beijing: the H500 four seat sedan and K350 four seat SUV at the Beijing Auto Show in April 2018. All very generous and adequately sharply-designed but these are just concept, not saleable cars. Plus the extravagant interiors are likely to be toned down drastically by the time these models come into production. Which is when exactly? Too much dreaming, time to get down to business HK, as we’ll see in our Top 15, there are quite a few new electric Chinese carmakers that are already making a splash with sales-ready models.

Long River EV Concept

Long River

This small electric carmaker chose to discard all its – very average-looking – small SUVs and LCVs from its main stand floor (they were instead relegated on a second stand outside of the main buildings under the sun. Instead, it showed us a starlet (a dying manipulation trick) and a TV Series-ready sportscar concept complete with digital “talking” grille. Very impressive, very innovative and very in-the-now, but for now what we really want is better looking cars that are ready to be bought.

MG X-Motion Concept

MG

The MG stand was closed-off during the first public day and a long queue was patiently waiting their turn to touch with the eye all the red models composing a stand that was decidedly sporty. The piece-de-resistance: the X-Motion SUV concept with LED grille and contours that we want to stay that way when it goes on sale (I doubt it). Perhaps one of the most impressive Chinese car concepts this year, but it’s only a concept: we want new cars MG. Sister brand Roewe did offer us a novelty in the shape of the large RX8 SUV, but its interior just fell short off the best Chinese around.

Singulato is6

Singulato

It was the first time I saw Singulato in any Chinese Show, and it did look like a brand that had already been established for a few years: very mature, serious and professional. Where is the spark, the excitement of being one of the Chinese Tesla-eaters? There wasn’t much. In their commitment to become credible fast (they are), Singulato seems to have forgotten to have fun. The interior of their is6 was off-limits, but we love the suicide doors that will remain in the production-ready car.

SWM G01

SWM G01 Sport

SWM

SWM played its Italian origins to the fullest this year with a themed stand complete with a bar and giant screens showing best-of action of the Inter Milan, the soccer team the marque is sponsoring. There were two new models: the G01 “standard” and a very angular, sporty-looking variant. All looking great, but the stand was removed from the main exhibition halls and located outside the ticket-only area. Masterstroke enabling the brand to be seen by the most or fail that disqualified it from playing with the rest of the teams? I’d tend to vote the latter.

Stay tuned for our coverage of the Top 15 most impressive Chinese carmakers at the 2019 Beijing Auto Show, coming shortly.

Beijing Auto Show 2018: The 5 foreign carmakers that stood out

The Lincoln stand at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show.

Press Days at the Beijing Auto Show are now over and it’s time to sift through roughly 2.000 pictures to give you my highlights. You can see our coverage of the 2014 Beijing Auto Show here and the 2016 Beijing Auto Show here. As is the tradition, our focus is decidedly and unabashedly on the most impressive Chinese carmakers as not many (no?) Western outlets cover them extensively, but also because they progress faster than it takes to write these fine lines. This year we have opted for a more streamlined coverage so we will really focus on the top of the crop. But first, let’s get the foreigners out of the way and have a quick look at the 5 foreign carmakers that stood out in my view. This is the Beijing Auto Show coverage with a BSCB angle, so not what you may have read anywhere else.

Lincoln Aviator interior: the right amount of luxury to get noticed in China.

1. Lincoln hits all the right notes

American manufacturer Lincoln entered the Chinese market as a pure importer in late 2014 and has since been rewarded with solid commercial success with 54.124 sales in 2017. Two weeks ago, Reuters reported that Lincoln expects to begin building the new Aviator in China in late 2019 or early 2020, along with replacements for the MKC compact crossover and the MKZ midsize sedan, followed in 2021 by the all-new Nautilus, which replaces the Lincoln MKX crossover. All-in-all, 5 Lincoln vehicles are to be produced in China by 2022. It’s fair to say the brand has been playing its cards perfectly so far. I was already impressed by Lincoln at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show, and true to form this year the Lincoln stand was a refined display of luxury with a roof simulating an open sky that felt light and airy – in a good way.

Aviator/Navigator/Nautilus: only SUVs on the Lincoln stand, the right choice for China.

There were only SUVs on the stand – no Continental sedan – a logical choice as it already sells like dim sums here and doesn’t really need to be spruced up anymore. Instead, the imposing Navigator, the all-new Aviator and Nautilus were on display, hitting the Chinese market exactly at the core of where the brand’s potential lies. Making Lincoln even more relevant was the contrast of US competitor Cadillac, literally stuck in 2013 with Lorde’s “Royals” annoyingly playing in a loop on the stand, and no novelties pushed: only the CT6 and XTS sedans and the XT5 crossover, ageing and becoming less relevant by the minute. As for Jeep, granted with the Grand Commander it finally has a China-only nameplate, but its interior remains sub-par to pretend competing with its aforementioned compatriots.

2. Mercedes gets down to business

Aside from the obscenely opulent Maybach Ultimate Luxury SUV Concept complete with tea set and flowers inside, in Beijing Mercedes also had its sights firmly set on toppling Audi as the #1 luxury brand in China, as it has already done over the First Quarter of 2018. The world premiere of the A-Class L sedan further demonstrates the brand’s commitment to this market and is the first China-only sedan Mercedes has ever introduced – up until now it was content extending the wheelbase of the C and E-Class. The A-Class L will be competing in the high volume premium sandpit along the likes of the Audi A3 sedan and the BMW 1-Series sedan, two formats also by and large dedicated to China. It’s the realisation that Mercedes has already managed to do so well without this vehicle in China that pushes me to say the brand is the best position for the #1 premium spot right now. Archenemies Audi (Q5L) and BMW (iX3 Concept not due until 2020) seemed muted in comparison.

3. Hyundai keeps churning out China exclusives

It’s always a good surprise to discover a new China-only foreign nameplate that I didn’t even know was in preparation, and after Kia at the Guangzhou Auto Show last November it’s the turn of sister brand Hyundai to raise my eyebrows. After the Mistra in 2014 and both the Celesta and Reina in 2017, The Lafesta (a name also used by Nissan in Japan) is the 4th China-only offering by the Korean carmaker. Hyundai China design chief Simon Loasby says it exudes the brand’s new sensuous ”sportiness” design philosophy that will attract a younger generation of Chinese buyers. I agree – the Lafesta shows much more voluptuous curves than the cookie-cutter designs of the Elantra, Verna and Reina. Besides, Hyundai needs all the help it can get after seeing its Chinese sales dive by 30% in 2017, as the Encino crossover (known elsewhere as Kona) was also on display but is yet to appear in the Chinese sales charts.

4. Lexus 

Lexus aptly chose China for the world premiere of the new generation ES, the best-selling imported nameplate in the country both in 2017 and so far in 2018. The Japanese premium marque even doubled down with a separate fully-fledged dealership outside the Show’s premises. However we were also expecting the all-new C-HR-based UX crossover which didn’t show up in Beijing.

5. A much needed Toyota C-HR song and dance

976.000: that’s the number of Honda Vezel and XR-V sold in China since their launch here in late 2014. That’s also the sales figure Toyota just missed out on by waiting an excruciatingly long period to launch the C-HR here. It should have launched here at least one year before its November 2016 European launch date, instead we are looking at a sales start during the second half of 2018. However it’s not certain the C-HR will be met with the same success as the Vezel in China: local customers have also been lapping up Chinese offerings such as the Haval H6, GAC Trumpchi GS4 and Changan CS55, similarly priced but a lot more spacious and offering true 4WD ability. Toyota sells its sporty but capable crossover (we drove it on the barren Oodnadatta Track in Australia) through both its joint ventures: under the C-HR name with GAC-Toyota and the IZOA name with FAW-Toyota

Finally a side note: following the purchase of a 49% equity interest in Shenyang Brilliance JinBei Automobile, the Jinbei brand now appears as Renault Brilliance on its stand, but a more puzzling development is the Jinbei 750 brochure proclaiming “Renault quality” whereas that model was developed well before Renault was even in the picture.

Stay tuned for the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Show…

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