This is it: the top of the crop, the utmost impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show. It doesn’t get better than this. Would you have guessed them? This is Part 8 of my Beijing Auto Show coverage, check out also Part 1- First impressions, Part 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 and Part 3 – #25 to #21, Part 4 – #20 to #16, Part 5 – #15 to #11, Part 6: A Voyage through Beijing hutongs and Part 7: Most impressive #10 to #6.
PSA Peugeot Citroen’s new shareholder, Dongfeng is involved in some of the most successful joint-ventures in the country but had never surprised by its own branded cars. Until now. This brand was one of my biggest surprises at the Show, firstly by the size and the playful vibe in its stand, the amount of novelties they presented and (a pet fave of mine) the streamlining of a multitude of sub-brands into very clear Dongfeng Motors signage.
Two all-new models: the Honda CR-V-inspired Fengshen AX7 and the surprisingly good-looking Fengxing S50, and three impressive concepts: the L60 sedan looking rather aggressive at the front, a Hummer-inspired totally insane 4WD knowing full-well how ludicrously pleasurable it is. The flagship Number 1 for its part has the potential to change everyone’s mind about DongFeng. Yes the technology is not new (Citroen C6) but damn it looks badass and imposingly slick. To top it off, the two starlets promoting it genuinely looked like they were having the time of their lives. It’s fun to be Dongfeng! Now that’s a surprise.
Haima does old-fashioned Mazdas no more. The Chinese carmaker has grown up and is decidedly having fun doing it. By far the most enthusiastic Chinese brand at the Show, Haima unveiled its S5 SUV with a live performance from local popstar Wu Mochou. No boring Haima official ever came on stage, instead the unveiling was MC’ed by a young hipstery presenter that gave the brand a serious image refresh. When it becomes interesting is that the video clip played alongside Wu Mochou’s performance featured her driving the car and interacting with it the entire time. Those of you who work in advertising know how hard it is to achieve this without looking too contrived. In my opinion and in a Chinese context Haima did a great job.
Also, the singer didn’t leave the stage after the song was over but joined the presenter to talk the car up. Perhaps a little cheesy by Western standards but it worked very well here, giving the show a welcome casual ambiance. China’s ban on Youtube prevents me from publishing the video now but I will do so as soon as I return to Australia. The other reason why Haima ranks so high here is that according to Chinese car expert Tycho de Feijter from Carnewschina.com, Haima’s image in China so far has been bland at the best of times. So they were way out of their comfort zone with the S5 launch and pulled it off. I have never agreed with Haima designs and the Show confirmed this, but huge kudos to the brand for this launch mise-en-scène.
#3 GAC Trumpchi
While GAC Gonow was one of the worst Chinese offenders (ranking #28), sister company GAC Trumpchi triumphed. First massive surprise: GAC Trumpchi is involved in a very official tie-up with the upcoming Transformers movie, making it the first Chinese carmakers to step inside a Hollywood movie, ever. Lots of Transformers references on the stand and Transformers robot characters wandering around already make GAC Trumpchi earn their high ranking. But they went further by presenting some kick-arse looking cars. The All-new GA3S would have been a better Infiniti Q50 and the GA6 Concept is what a truly exciting Toyota Camry should look like.
Chinese car luxury exists and it’s called Hongqi (Red flag). Thanks FAW for making it completely separate from your other brands, for giving it its own logo and its own very sophisticated red, black and wood stand. I loved the red ‘diamond’ on all bonnets, I loved the powerful interior and the serene confidence that exudes from your stand.
I love that Chinese kids can dream over a Chinese brand. The H7 design still looks a little American 90s, so wouldn’t it be great if you had a truly cool car. And now you have. The L5 unveiled at the Show is a retro-cool reinvention of the original Hongqi model launched in 1958 in the same way Mini did. Now to convince these Chinese businessmen to choose you over Audi. After all, with a $51,300 starting price, it’s a full normal Chinese car ($10,000) less than an equivalent A6L.
If you have been reading this ranking very closely you will have guessed the #1 already… Unveiling coming soon…
More photos below.