Greece June 2016: Micra topples Yaris in market down 1.5%

Nissan Micra Greece June 2016. Picture courtesy of largus.frNissan Micra

* See the Top 34 All-brands and Top 163 All-models 

After surging 49% in May, the Greek new car market seesaws back down 1.5% in June to 8.863 registrations, with a year-to-date tally still comfortably in positive at +10% to 47.413 units. Overtaken by Nissan in May, Toyota soars 83% year-on-year to reclaim the brands lead with 1.196 sales and 13.5% share, knocking Nissan down to #2 at 1.007 and 11.4% (+3%). Volkswagen (-15%) and Opel (-18%) are in difficulty but Peugeot (+12%) and Fiat (+16%) shine. Below, Renault (+63%), Ford (+85%), Dacia (+273%) and Alfa Romeo (+220%) all post spectacular gains. Model-wise, the Nissan Micra (+47%) snaps up the pole position, toppling the Toyota Yaris (+57%) while the Renault Clio is up 10 spots on May to #3. The Toyota Aygo is up 21 to #5, the Seat Leon up 27 to #8 and the Toyota Auris up 245% year-on-year to #10.

Previous month: Greece May 2016: Nissan, Mercedes shine in market up 49%

One year ago: Greece June 2015: Suzuki Celerio breaks into Top 10

Full June 2016 Top 34 All-brands and Top 163 All-models below.

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Bulgaria June 2016: Dacia Dokker back in charge in market down 5%

Dacia Dokker Bulgaria June 2016. Picture courtesy autoevolution.comThe Dacia Dokker is the best-selling vehicle in Bulgaria in June and YTD. 

* See the Top 32 All-brands and Top 174 All-models by clicking on the title *

Bulgaria sales see a 5% year-on-year drop in June to an estimated 3.061 registrations, however the year-to-date total is still in positive halfway through 2016 at +6% to 15.524 units. Thanks to deliveries up 35% on June 2015, Dacia remains the most popular manufacturer in the country, followed by Renault (-9%), Skoda (+3%) and Volkswagen (-24%) while Ford (+14%) rounds up the Top 5. Nissan (+36%), Land Rover (+57%), Fiat (+31%) and Volvo (+38%) shine but Kia (-51%), Mazda (-25%), Audi (-16%), Great Wall (-84%) and Seat (-67%) struggle. In the models aisle, the Dacia Dokker is back to the pole position it holds year-to-date, ahead of the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Octavia. The Opel Astra leaps 27 spots on May to #8 and the Renault Master is up 17 to #10.

A caveat to these results is the fact that Bulgaria sales figures are skewed by re-exports to other European Union countries, with a large portion of new car sales in the country never making it to local roads – as much as 20% – thanks to Bulgaria displaying some of the lowest car prices in the EU. See here for more on this phenomenon.

Previous month: Bulgaria May 2016: Dacia reclaims brands top spot off Renault

One year ago: Bulgaria June 2015: Renault Captur confirms leadership

Full June 2016 Top 32 All-brands and Top 174 All-models below.

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Slovenia June 2016: Renault Group monopolises podium

Renault Captur Slovenia June 2016. Picture courtesy largus.frThe Renault Captur is #2 in Slovenia in June.

* See the Top 35 All-brands and Top 204 All-models by clicking on the title *

The Slovenian new car market is up a whopping 19% year-on-year in June to 6.492 units, lifting the year-to-date total up 10% to 34.980 halfway through 2016. Volkswagen reclaims the #1 spot it holds year-to-date off Renault for just… one sale at 947 vs. 946. Opel (-5%), Skoda (+5%) and Dacia (+16%) follow while below, Fiat (+74%), Hyundai (+80%), BMW (+50%), Mercedes (+38%), Suzuki (+111%) and Mini (+157%) impress. Model-wise, the Renault Clio reigns supreme with 5.6% share and is joined on the podium by the Renault Captur at #2 (+9 on May) and the Dacia Duster at #3 (+2%), meaning the Renault Group monopolises the Slovenian podium in June. The Volkswagen Group holds the next three spots with the VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and VW Polo. The Fiat 500 (#7), Peugeot 2008 (#10), Opel Mokka (#18) and Ford C-Max (#20) all shine

Previous month: Slovenia May 2016: Renault surges 104% to 19.5% share, Clio #1

One year ago: Slovenia June 2015: Dacia Duster posts historical win

Full June 2016 Top 35 All-brands and Top 204 All-models below.

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Latvia First Half 2016: Qashqai #1, Opel Mokka shoots up to #2

Opel Mokka Latvia June 2016. Picture courtesy of autobild.deThe Opel Mokka is the 2nd best-selling vehicle in Latvia so far in 2016. 

* See the Top 40 All-brands and Top 285 All-models by clicking on the title *

New car sales in Latvia gain a very robust 20% year-on-year over the first half of 2016 to 9.718 registrations. Volkswagen remains the most popular brand despite sales down 1% to 1.314 and a market share down to 13.5% from 16.5% a year ago. Toyota (+16%) and Nissan (+12%) round out the podium like last year, Opel is up 133% and 6 spots to #4, Renault up 65% to #5 and Ford up 28% to #6. Peugeot (+84%), Kia (+64%), Citroen (+60%) and Mazda (+120%) also shine. Model-wise, the Nissan Qashqai holds onto the pole position it held over the Full Year 2015 despite sales down 5% to 423 but in 2nd place the Opel Mokka is up 4-fold on a year ago to 301 units and 3.1% share, edging past the VW Golf (+28%), Fiat 500 (+64%) and VW Passat (-17%). Notice also the Renault Trafic at #12 (+113%) and the Peugeot 308 at #15 (+971%).

Previous post: Latvia Full Year 2015: Nissan Qashqai and VW Passat outpace Skoda Yeti

One year ago: Latvia June 2015: Nissan Qashqai reclaims lead, Fiat 500 #3

Full H1 2016 Top 40 All-brands and Top 285 All-models below.

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China 2016 Photo Reports: The Chinese car dealerships of Xining

Huanghai N2 Xining China 2016Huanghai N2

After exploring the cars of Xining, we now go on a tour of the small Chinese car dealerships of the capital of the Qinghai province, the ones specifically located along the few blocks near the intersection of Bowen and Baiyi Lu. The photos give you an idea of which models are pushing by dealers in this particular area of China, with pickup trucks given centre stage. Below is a selection of the 25 most representative Xining dealership photos, ranked in alphabetical order. A further 35 photos can be found below the jump for a complete report.

China map XiningA reminder of where Xining is located in China.BAW Jeep Pickup Xining China 2016BAW Jeep Pickup
Chana Minivan 29900 yuan Xining China 2016Chana Star Minivan
Cowin C3 Xining China 2016Cowin C3
Cowin dealership Xining China 2016Cowin dealership
Donfgfeng Fengshen A60 Xining China 2016Dongfeng Fengshen A60 priced at 69.700 yuan ($10.400)
Enranger dealership Xining China 2016Enranger dealership
FAW dealership Xining China 2016 picsFAW dealership
Foday F22 Pickup Xining China 2016 pic2Foday F22 Pickup
Foday F22 Pickup Xining China 2016Foday F22 Pickup Geely King Kong Xining China 2016Geely King Kong Geely Gleagle GX7 Xining China 2016Geely GX7 and Gleagle GX7 (note the two different logos)
Gleagle closed dealership Xining China 2016Abandoned Gleagle dealership
Hawtai dealership Dongfeng Cowin Xining China 2016Hawtai dealership fronted with Dongfeng Fengshen A60 and Cowin C3
Higer dealership Xining China 2016 pic2Higer dealership
Huansu dealership Xining China 2016 pic2Huansu dealership – they are separate from BAIC
Jinbei dealership Xining China 2016 pic2Jinbei – Brilliance dealership
Jinbei mini truck Xining China 2016Jinbei Mini Trucks
JMC GL dealership Xining China 2016JMC GL dealership
Leopaard CS10 Xining China 2016Leopaard CS10
Leopaard Q6 Xining China 2016Leopaard Black King and Q6
Wuling Sunshine Mini TruckA very rare Wuling Sunshine Mini Truck priced at 26.900 yuan (US$4.000)
ZX Auto Grand Tiger Xining China 2016 ZX Auto Grand Tiger priced at 66.900 yuan (US$10.000)

The Photo Report continues below with 35 additional photos.

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China 2016 Photo Reports: 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 Reports 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.

China map XiningLocation 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 T600 Xining China 2016Zotye T600Haval H2 Xining China 20162 x Haval H2, Foton Forland Pickup
Landwind X7 Xining China 2016Landwind 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 Xining China 2016Wuling 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 Xining China 2016Chana Mini Truck

Chana Mini Truck Xining China 2016 pic3Chana Mini Truck Double CabKawei Pickup Xining China 2016Kawei K1 PickupXining MosqueXining Dongguang Grand MosqueChevrolet Malibu Xining China 2016Chevrolet 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!

MG 23 GAC Trumpchi GA3 Xining China 2016MG3, GAC Trumpchi GA3 and Wuling HongguangHaval H6 Coupe Xining China 2016Haval H1, Nissan Qashqai and Citroen C-Elysee
GAC Trumpchi GS4 Xining China 2016GAC Trumpchi GS4Toyota Corolla EX Xining China 20162 x Toyota Corolla EX in front of the Dongguang Grand MosqueGreat Wall Safe Xining China 2016Great Wall Safe
Haima S5 Xining China 2016Haima S5

The Photo Report continues below with 17 additional photos.

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China 1st Half 2016: Tax cut, SUV wave spur 8% gain to record 12.8m

Baojun 560 China September 2015. Picture courtesy shwuling.comBaojun sold 320.000 units of the 560 in the past 12 months. 

* See the Top 75 All China-made brands and Top 465 models by clicking on the title *

Faced with a declining car market, last October Chinese government cut in half the tax on cars with small engines (1.6L or less). The Chinese market never looked back since, culminating in a 18% surge in June. Over the first half of 2016, sales of light vehicles are up 9.2% to 11.042.300 units. Total vehicle sales including trucks and buses gain 8.1% to a record-breaking 12.8 million units, according to the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). By comparison, the U.S. light vehicle market, the 2nd largest in the world, is up 1.5% to 8.644.920 deliveries.

Buick Envision China June 2016The Envision is a huge success for Buick in China. 

A very robust 2nd half could mean the government will let the tax cut expire on December 31 as planned. If that’s the case, we will witness a last-minute rush to buy small cars towards the end of the year and a disproportionately low start of 2017 – in that scenario IHS predicts Chinese growth will slow to 1.4% in 2017. For this reason, the CAAM said it is in favour of a permanent tax cit that could be viewed as a promotion of fuel-efficient cars. I am banking on the government extending the tax cut to avoid sending another wave of disruption into the market. For now, halfway through 2016 SUV sales remain the clear engine of Chinese growth with deliveries up a whopping 42% year-on-year to 3.850.000 units, while MPV get a second wind at +19% to 1.200.100 sales and sedans continue to skid at -4% to 5.565.700.

H1 2016 Ch. MS /15 H1 2015 Ch. MS /14 H1 2014 Ch. MS
Total Market 11,042,300 / 9% 10,121,300 / 5% 9,638,400 /
Ch. brands 4,735,000 42.9% 13% 4,184,600 41.3% 15% 3,651,500 37.9%
Ch. SUV 2,171,000 56.4% 53% 1,417,700 53.3% 93% 735,300 40.4%
Ch. Sedans 1,109,400 19.9% -11% 1,243,400 21.5% -11% 1,390,800 22.6%
Ch. MPV 1,087,600 90.6% 21% 895,200 88.1% 19% 750,400 85.1%

Ch. = Chinese, Ch. MS = Chinese market share

Chinese manufacturers continue to regain the terrain they had lost in the home market in the past decade thanks to extremely strong SUV sales. Over the first 6 months of 2016, they hold a 42.9% market share of Chinese light vehicle sales, compared to 41.3% a year ago and 37.9% in 2014. Chinese SUVs gain a stunning 53% to 2.171.000 units and 56.4% share vs. 53.3% in 2015 and 40.4% in 2014. Chinese MPV also have a smile on their bonnet with deliveries up 21% leading to a 90.6% share vs. 88.1% in 2015 and 85.1% in 2014. Only Chinese sedans lag behind with volumes down 11% to 19.9% share vs. 21.5% in 2015 and 22.6% in 2014.

Buick Excelle GT VW Lavida China June 2016. Picture courtesy autohome.com.cnThe Buick Excelle GT and VW Lavida have helped GM and VAG tremendously in China this year. 

Overtaken by General Motors over the Full Year 2015, the Volkswagen Group reclaims the lead of the Chinese sales races halfway through 2016 thanks to deliveries up 6% to 1.91 million. The Volkswagen brand is up 5% to 1.44m, Audi up 6% to 290.126, Skoda up 11% to 152.000 and Porsche up 4% to 30.440. GM for its part is up 5% to 1.81m units. Buick is up 27% to become the #2 brand in the country below VW at 569.000 sales, Baojun surges 81%, Wuling is stable but Chevrolet is down 31%. Hyundai-Kia is in difficulty at -0.6% to fall just under 810.000 sales, Nissan Motor is up 4% to 609.900, Toyota Motor up 16% to 592.100, Ford Motor up 6% to 577.100 with Lincoln sales tripling to 12.450 (more than the 11.630 it sold over the Full Year 2015) and Honda up 18% to 542.500 thanks to the roaring success of the XR-V and Vezel twin crossovers. In the luxury aisle, below Audi, Mercedes soars 33% to 220.000 units, citing up on BMW up 7% to 247.600. Note the above figures include imports – which is not the case in the sales tables below the jump.

Haval H6 Coupe China June 2016The Haval H6 remains the best-selling SUV in China – Coupe variant pictured. 

Looking at homegrown brands – figures don’t include commercial vehicles, Changan is up 8% but drops one spot to #3 at 563.900 units, Haval gains a solid 22% to break into the Top 10 at #9 and 378.700 units, Beijing Auto is up 51% to #11, Dongfeng up 15% to #12, Geely up 10% to #15 and JAC up 17% #18. Below, the brands that gain spectacular ground all do so thanks to new SUV offerings: GAC Trumpchi is up 170%, Zotye up 49%, Brilliance up 46%, Roewe up 74%, Soueast up 81%, Leopaard up 433% and Landwind up 236%.

Wuling Hongguang S1 China June 2016Still the one: the Wuling Hongguang is the #1 vehicle in China but drops 6%

Model-wise, the Wuling Hongguang remains the best-selling vehicle in the country despite sales down 6% to 294.300, but is now under intense pressure from the VW Lavida, up a fantastic 23% to 287.400. The Haval H6 does even better, lifted by the success of the Coupe variant up 40% to 240.300. Just below, a string of high-performing sedans contradict the overall trend: the VW Jetta (+16%), Sagitar (+27%), Buick Excelle GT (+54%) and Toyota Corolla (+35%) all frankly outpace the market. Just over one year old, the GAC Trumpchi GS4 lands inside the Top 10 thanks to 150.800 deliveries. The Buick Envision (#14), Dongfeng Fengguang 330/370 (+30%), Honda CR-V (+38%), XR-V (+61%) and Vezel (+44%) and Toyota Levin (+32%) also shine inside the Top 50.

GAC Trumpchi GS4 China June 2016. Picture courtesy rednet.cnThe GAC Trumpchi GS4 is now among the 10 most popular vehicles in China. 

But the most impressive performance is without a doubt delivered by the Baojun 560, landing directly in 4th position overall with nearly 175.000 sales so far in 2016. Launched in July 2015, Baojun has sold an earth-shattering 320.000 copies of the 560 in just 12 months, beating the brand’s previous launch (the 730) to snap the title of most successful new nameplate launch in the history of automobile in China. The Baojun 560 is the fastest nameplate to reach its first 300.000 units: it did so in just 11 months (301.534) vs. 13 for the Baojun 730. It leads a strong contingent of 72 new China-made nameplates having made their first appearance in the Chinese charts over the past 12 months. So far in 2016, the Changan Oushang, Hyundai Elantra Lingdong, Jeep Cherokee, BAIC Huansu H3, Zotye Damai X5, BAIC Senova X25, Nissan Lannia, Soueast DX7 and Roewe 360 have been the most successful. It’s also worth mentioning the Buick Verano, new Hyundai Tucson and Brilliance V3, each just over one year old but already inside the Top 50.

Previous post: China June 2016: Market up 18%, next wave of Chinese SUVs arrives

One year ago: China 1st Half 2015: Domestic carmakers regain ground in shy market

Full H1 2016 Top 75 All China-made brands and Top 465 models vs. Full H1 2015 figures below.

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Report: Can the No.1 SUV brand in China take on the Australian Outback? Part 8: Quilpie to Sydney and Full Review

1. Haval H8 SydneyWe’re baaaaack! (click on any picture to enlarge)

This is the last instalment of our Report on driving Damo, a Haval H8, from Sydney to Birdsville and back, to see whether the #1 SUV brand in China can tackle all that the Australian Outback has to offer. You can view the entire series here. The separate links to the previous parts of this series are here: Part 1: The StakesPart 2: Sydney to Broken HillPart 3: Orroroo to LyndhurstPart 4: Lyndhurst to MoolawatanaPart 5: Moolawatana to MungeranniePart 6: Mungerannie to Birdsville and Part 7: Birdsville to Quilpie.

Quilpie SydneyOutback Queensland license plateHaval H8 before CharlevilleThe Quilpie to Sydney two-day itinerary (click to enlarge).

Two more days and I must return the Haval H8 to Sydney. A routine visit to the local petrol station in Quilpie quickly morphed into a nasty surprise. The premium unleaded petrol pump is locked, not unusual in the outback, so I come in to ask for the key. “Oh we don’t have any premium anymore luv, no one uses it here.” Okay then, I’ll just check another…wait. We are in such an isolated part of Australia that this is the only petrol station in a circle of over 200km. Haval’s directions are strict: no petrol under 95 octane rating must be fed to Damo. A couple of feverish calls to the closest towns give the following results: Eulo (233km south-east) doesn’t have any, but Cunnamulla (302km via Eulo) and Charleville (212km east) both do. Charleville is a detour east that adds 110km to my day and means I will have to drive at twilight again tonight, with the constant danger of kangaroos. But this is the closest town that has the right petrol for me. Quick calculations based on the amount of fuel left in the tank and Damo’s average fuel economy show that I have enough fuel to go roughly 220km. I will need to drive very efficiently then, which thankfully I did and managed to reach Charleville. After slaloming between roos to reach Quilpie the night before, here’s another town I believe no one got more excited to reach than myself.

Haval H8 CharlevilleCheap Premium Unleaded CharlevilleHaval H8 Toyota Hilux CharlevilleCommbank Charleville Vietnamese leafletHaval H8 Ford Ranger CharlevilleThirsty Camel bottle shops, cheap petrol, Vietnamese leaflets and roo-barred pickups in Charleville.

Now get this: Charleville is the first town of more than 1.000 inhabitants I traverse since Peterborough in South Australia, some 2.594km/1.611 miles ago… (see Part 2: Sydney to Broken Hill). It is also the town where I saw the first passenger car – meaning non-SUV or pickup – since Hawker in the Flinders Ranges, 2.450km/1.522 miles ago (see Part 3: Orroroo to Lyndhurst). It was a Nissan Almera sedan, a model that has now been discontinued in Australia, and it was a real shock: I wondered what the heck that car was doing on the road. One particularity of Charleville is that it now houses a large number of Vietnamese workers on skilled-migration visas working at the local meat works. Far from the stereotype of a racist rural Australia, the locals welcome them with wide open arms: “Mate, it’s keeping the town alive,” ‘Red’ Alexander, a resident, said to the Brisbane Times. In fact, there are leaflets in Vietnamese at the Commonwealth Bank local bureau (pictured above). The fact is rural people tend to be a lot more welcoming and kind than their city counterparts: the type that runs to me and holds the front door of Damo open so I can discharge my full hands without dropping everything on the ground.

Haval H8 Charleville to CunnamullaIsuzu MU-X CunnamullaToyota Hilux Mazda BT-50 CunnamullaThe Land 16 June 2016Cunnamulla

We are now on the Mitchell Highway and the next stop, that we reach a good hour later than if I had managed to fuel up on Premium in Quilpie, is Cunnamulla. The earth gets even redder on the sides of the road and the contrast with the surrounding vegetation is stunning. Along with neighbour town Eulo, Cunnamulla has a very peculiar claim to fame. I stop at the information centre, and a dynamic young woman catches my gaze and offers a big smile: “How can we help?” I venture: “I heard of lizard races being organised here?” She turns official: “Yes, that’s the International Lizard Races Championship, that we used to co-host with Eulo”, making sure the international part gets particular attention. “Unfortunately, legislation around catching and keeping the lizards had become a little too stringent and we were unable to continue with the Races.” Damn. I would have liked to witness that… A look at the local paper, The Land, shows that local farmers are moving with the times and the current debate focusing on the use of new digital measuring technologies across vast swaths of land in order to better anticipate and manage harvesting of crops. The full article is on the newspaper’s website.

Haval H8 BourkeHaval H8 Great Wall X-Series BourkeDamo in the back o’Bourke and posing with its predecessor, the Great Wall Hover H5 (aka X-Series in Oz)

Another 260km/160mi south and we arrive at Bourke across the state border in New South Wales, now just 800km/500mi north-west of Sydney. 37% of the 2.047-strong Bourke population identifies as Indigenous Australian (to be compared with 3% of the overall Australian population), with 21 different indigenous language groups recognised in Bourke today. In 1962, a local, Percy Hobson, became the first Aboriginal athlete to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal for Australia. Somewhat paradoxically, on this trip Bourke virtually represents the dawn of civilisation: the end of the desert and the start of a more dense network of population leading to Sydney. But from an Australian east coast perspective, Bourke is on the opposite considered as the edge of settled agricultural districts and the gateway to the Outback to the north and west of town. Accordingly, the Australian expression “back o’ Bourke” refers to the Outback: once you pass Bourke, you’re lost.

Ford Kuga BourkeHyundai Starex BourkeMitsubishi Triton BourkeToyota Hilux BourkeYou gotta roo-bar your car in Bourke…

The striking car landscape characteristic of Bourke is that the majority of cars are equipped with a roo-bar. I detailed how unpredictable and therefore dangerous kangaroos can be on the road in the previous instalment of this series (see Part 7: Birdsville to Quilpie), and local residents have had to adapt to that threat by hiding their vehicles behind menacing bars such as the Toyota Hilux pictured above. No type of car escapes the roo-bar treatment: from police vehicles, large sedans such as the Toyota Camry or Holden Commodore to small SUVs such as the Nissan Qashqai or Ford Kuga and vans such as the Hyundai Starex and VW Transporter. In fact, in the 450km/280mi that separate Charleville from Bourke, I somewhat grimly counted one dead roo on the road every two km on average (that’s a total of almost 230 dead roos), and sometimes 3 or 4 in a few hundred metres. The push from locals to cull the roo population in the area now makes a lot more sense.

Haval H8 WashingHaval H8 Sydney Pic3Haval H8 Sydney Pic2“The Birdsville Track? Never heard of it…” Don’t lie, Damo.

The roos at twilight were the last hurdle to overcome before arriving at Nyngan, some 550km/340mi north-west of Sydney. But I learnt my lesson yesterday: 60km/h-40mph max and a full stop when roos are spotted enable me to snail my way to destination unscathed despite the darkness. The last day is a slow progress through numerous roadworks and traffic jams to arrive back to Sydney, but Damo’s sat nav has the good idea to divert me to smaller countryside roads that are a pleasure to drive on so that it’s not highway all the way. An observation as I cross the Blue Mountains 100km west of Sydney: suddenly a flurry of Subarus appear on the road and it makes me realise I had all but forgotten that brand during my adventure. Contrary to Alaska and northwestern USA, Subarus are not used for their 4WD abilities in Australia, only in cities. Once in Sydney, it’a race against time to catch a view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge from the North Sydney Olympic Pool before sunset. The guys at the Oasis Car Wash Cafe nearby welcome Damo with wide open eyes: “Long trip you’ve been on, mate?” Yessir. Less than an hour later, Damo could credibly pretend he’s never heard of the Birdsville Track in his entire life.

Overall Birdsville Track loop June 2016The overall Australian outback loop I took Damo through (click to enlarge).

The morning after, as Damo is installed on the tow truck and I wave him goodbye, the adrenaline push that has kept me going for the past week suddenly drops. In eight days, I have driven 5.343km or 3.320 miles. 1 in 4 were on dirt tracks for a final fuel economy of 11.5L/100km or 20.4mpg. A total of 638L or 166 gal of Premium Unleaded petrol were needed to complete the trip, costing AUD $958.20 (US$ 727.82, 686.65€). Given the diversity, difficulty and roughness of some of the terrain we traversed, this actually amounts to pretty good fuel economy. But most importantly of all, Damo has never failed under pressure, handling unknown and isolated terrain like an experienced adventurer. The objective of this road trip was to test in the harsh Australian Outback that Haval’s status of No.1 SUV brand in China was backed by actual 4WD ability. It is.

So, can the No.1 SUV brand in China take on the Australian Outback?

The answer is yes.

Haval H8 4WDDamo yes

Reliability under duress, four wheel driving ability. The Intelligent AWD system is automatically engaged at the right time and easy to anticipate/manage. All mud obstacles were overcome across 1.400km of dirt tracks. No spinning wheels, adherence was appropriate and the vehicle controllable in extremely slippery conditions.

Interior quality and equipment, plush materials, intuitive and functional dials. Nothing is too complicated, everything is refined and well-thought. No user manual required.

Comfortable ride, strong lower back seat support.

Some very welcome smarts: automatic warning in case of sudden braking, back window wipers automatically turning on when reversing in rain for example.

Some fun bonuses like the brand name projected on the floor in red letters from rear view mirrors.

Powerful and efficient brakes that enabled me to avoid hitting any kangaroos (phew!).

Interior space: leg space at rear is huge and lots of storage space in the front.

Exterior design is aggressive yet timeless, won’t get old too quickly. Originally unveiled in April 2012 at the Beijing Auto Show but officially launched in March 2015, the H8 is therefore already 4 years old design-wise but still looks current, even attractive.

High speed driving integrity, both on bitumen (160km/h-100mph) and dirt track (130km/h-80mph) where these speeds were attained with no behaviour change.

Damo no

Premium Unleaded petrol mandate adds 20 to 50 AU cents per litre. Accessibility to standard petrol or, even better, a diesel engine would have been much more cost-efficient options.

2.0 Turbo engine lacks… turbo when accelerating.

Two underbody screws got loose after continued exposure to mud wheel ruts over a 1.000km distance. Metallic ones would have held.

The sat nav vastly overestimates the time required to reach destination by applying speeds that are a lot lower than the speed limit, and is not incorporating unsealed roads in its route calculations.

Reverse camera and boot opening are inoperable if the car is muddy.

Armrest storage opening is cumbersome and prevents easy access.

There is no memory on Eco or Sport modes: these have to be turned back on each time engine restarts and are easily forgotten because of lack of striking indication on the odo.

Guiding voice repeatedly asks to put on the parking mode when on reverse gear.

Two additional 20L jerrycans of petrol were needed to complete the trip safely due to high distances between petrol stations stocking Premium Unleaded. The 75L tank isn’t large enough for long 4WD adventures (it would be with a diesel engine), but it will still get you 640km/400mi ahead.

Farewell Haval H8

And with this it’s time to say good bye to Damo. It’s been a treat.

Report: Can the No.1 SUV brand in China take on the Australian Outback? Part 7: Birdsville to Quilpie

Haval H8 Emergency Airstrip150km past Birdsville, the dirt track transforms into an emergency airstrip. 

This is Part 7 of our Report on driving Damo, a Haval H8, into the Australian Outback to see whether the #1 SUV brand in China can deal with the worst road conditions this country has to offer. You can view the entire series here. The separate links to the previous parts of this series are here: Part 1: The StakesPart 2: Sydney to Broken HillPart 3: Orroroo to LyndhurstPart 4: Lyndhurst to MoolawatanaPart 5: Moolawatana to Mungerannie and Part 6: Mungerannie to Birdsville.

Birdsville Quilpie mapToday’s itinerary courtesy of Google maps (Click to enlarge).

After rewarding Damo with a sunset on Big Red the night before (see Part 6: Mungerannie to Birdsville), I must now try and continue my journey and find my way back to Sydney, ideally through the east on the Birdsville Developmental Road towards Windorah. Yesterday however, that track was closed, as well as the northern “escape” to Bedourie, blocking my advancement. First I must take advantage of the first pump of Premium Unleaded petrol since Copley way before the Birdsville Track. (see Part 5: Moolawatana to Mungerannie). It seems like centuries ago already. There are two petrol stations in Birdsville but only the one across the road from the Birdsville Hotel sells Premium Unleaded, at an ok price of 161 cents per litre. It’s expensive, but not as outlandish as the 185 cents of Copley or Arkaroola (see Part 4: Lyndhurst to Moolawatana).

Birdsville BakeryBirdsville Bakery

The station owner has all the Road conditions information I need, namely that the track to Windorah has reopened a few minutes ago, but for high-clearance 4WDs only. He checks out Damo: “It’s four-wheel-drive yes? You should be arright then!” You sure? “Yeah just take it slow and steady.” I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of getting stuck on my way back home from Birdsville, so I check with the Wirrarra Information Centre for more details: why is the track 4WD only, is it creeks, mud, sand, rutting? Turns out they have no idea, and I’d be better placed asking cars coming the other way once I’m on the track. It reinforced the perception I have of tracks being opened and closed solely based on the weather, and not always based on people having travelled on them informing on the conditions. My last stop before setting sail is at the revered Birdsville Bakery. My verdict: a tad over-rated. The – supposedly world class – meat pie is burning hot and mushy and the small $4 coffee is taking the piss.

Birdsville RacesBirdsville RacesThe legendary Birdsville Races 

But it was the opportunity to check out the legendary Birdsville racecourse. All along the trip people where asking me why I would want to go to Birdsville at this time of the year. “It’s a bit early for the races!” On the “Welcome to Birdsville” roadsign, it says population: 115 (+/- 7000). That’s because during the first weekend in September, the annual Birdsville Cup horse races draw up to 7.000 spectators from all over the country for three very dusty days. You know you are in the remote Australian outback when you realise that during these three days, parking is free for all light aircraft… Why bother with a car?

Road signs in BirdsvilleOur objective for today is Quilpie.

Just out of Birdsville after a quick hosing down, the road sign listing distances to main towns is daunting. Brisbane is over 1.600km east (1.000 miles), Adelaide is almost 1.200km south (745 miles) and Marree (518km) and Mungeranie (370km) remind us of the past two days. According to the sign, the closest settlement on our itinerary is Betoota (170km) but there is no petrol until Windorah (389km). Our objective for today is Quilpie (669km). Although the Birdsville Developmental Road towards Windorah has just reopened, the gate on the road is still closed, and I feel a little naughty driving around it, but off we go.

Birdsville-Windorah trackHaval H8 BetootaCrest roadsignNear Betoota

Now that I have achieved the goal of this trip – reaching Birdsville – it would be very easy to let my guard down and loosen my concentration. I’m conscious this would be a big mistake, if anything danger is the most acute now. The track to Windorah will be treacherous as no 2WD is allowed on it today, and the terrain is indeed very stony from the get go. A debilitating puncture could be just around the corner. Although considered a proper settlement on all road signs since Birdsville, Betoota is in fact a ghost town that only has seasonal population. The last permanent resident, Sigmund Remienko, a grader driver until he bought the Betoota Hotel in 1957, died in 2004. The sandstone Betoota Hotel, built in 1887, is now the last remaining building in town. It closed in 1997. As illustrated above, the most frequent road sign on this part of Australia is one warning for a crest in the road and reminding all vehicles to keep left: given there is only one truly well graded track, it’s a constant zigzag before crests to ensure the probability of hitting an oncoming car face on is null.

Haval H8 AirstripEmergency AirstripDamo has just landed.

Roughly 150km past Birdsville near the Planet Downs station, I discovered a new concept which, it turns out, is another unique characteristic of Outback Australia: the road gets sealed for 1.5 to 3 km / 1 to 2 miles and becomes an emergency airstrip for Flying Doctors aircrafts. They are announced by a sign forbidding cars to park on the road for that distance, as pictured at the top of this article. There were three of these on the way to Windorah. See Part 2: Sydney to Broken Hill for a thorough description of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, an iconic Australian institution.

Muddy trackBetoota RoadworkGrading the track

There is roughly 270km of dirt tracks to go from Birdsville, and as hinted by the “4WD only” road condition status, a lot of it is still very muddy. There were a couple of tricky passes with particularly deep wheel ruts but once again Damo mastered them without batting an eyelid. Yet, almost no one dared venture on the track with a conventional SUV. Out of the dozen cars that crossed my path in the almost 300km distance, I was once again the only non-modified, -higher clearance 4WD along with just one Land Rover Discovery, whose 4WD abilities are a lot more recognised than my Haval H8. The rest were the usual Toyota Hilux, Land Cruiser ute and wagon, Nissan Patrol and VW Amarok. At one point the track was being graded with the truck covering copious amounts of mud along the way.

Before WindorahArraburyBefore Windorah 2Channel Country landscapes

The landscapes I traversed today were as beautiful as they were unexpected: rather foolishly, I had assumed that once I arrived in Birdsville the trip would lose much of its interest. The contrary was true: a mix of arid desert and tenacious vegetation gave the most unusual and striking colour combinations. Starting with a tough rusted gibber plain from Birdsville, the track goes through the more fertile Channel Country composed of intertwined rivulets. There, the bright blue of the sky mixes with the orange earth, grey clouds and green and yellow vegetation. Sometimes bright red sand dunes dash the horizon.

Haval H8 Gibber plain Haval H8 Red earthHaval H8 Road Train route signBack on bitumen.

After 270km, when the Birdsville Developmental Road joins the Diamantina one, it’s with great emotion that Damo and I are reunited with continuous bitumen. This particular road is a Road Train route, and multiple signs such as the one above remind us that given how narrow the road is – it is basically one way – each time a road train approaches, it’s better to just stop and park completely outside the road in order to avoid any gravel damage to the windshield. Now. I had assumed the return of sealed roads meant the return of civilisation and proper phone network. I couldn’t be further from the truth. I would have to drive a further 1.500 km (almost 1.000 miles) to be able to put a phone call in without being cut by a flailing network.

Haval H8 Windorah10000kmHaval H8 SnakeAn important milestone / Thankfully the only snake of the trip… 

At roughly the same time as we got back onto bitumen, Damo celebrates an important milestone: 10.000km on the odo. I took the picture above to mark the occasion. After almost 1.400 km of continuous dirt tracks, the technical balance sheet of Damo is still for the most part unscathed. Apart from the two plastic screws I mentioned in the last update (see Part 6: Mungerannie to Birdsville), this Haval H8 is decidedly running like clockwork. An impressive achievement.

Windorah RoadhouseHolden Colorado WindorahWindorah refuelMaking a mistake in Windorah

For the past 5 hours I have been spotting small signs on the road indicating how far we were from Windorah. The build-up and anticipation had unconsciously led me to assume and expect that Windorah would be a huge metropolis. It’s tiny. Named after the local Aboriginal word for “Big Fish”, Windorah has a population of 158. That’s 43 more than Birdsville, but still not enough to qualify it as a village: it’s described as a ‘human settlement’ on most guides. There I make a big mistake: still considering myself back in civilisation which means being obviously surrounded by petrol stations at every corner, I choose to ignore the Windorah roadhouse and empty my second and last jerrycan of premium unleaded petrol in the tank. But it doesn’t end there. I was just about to experience the most tense couple of hours of the entire trip…

Haval H8 sunset pc2Haval H8 sunsetSunset on Damo.

Just past Windorah and for the first time since Moolawatana, kangaroos are back. I get an ominous sign first: just as I finished saying to myself out loud (don’t laugh, lonesome driving does that to you) that it doesn’t look like it’ll be an issue driving at twilight, the first kangaroo points its nose. There have been absolutely no kangaroo warning signs all day, so my vigilance isn’t at the 1000% level it should have been at the start. Kangaroos start hopping around aimlessly on the road, coming out, getting back in entranced, quick and unpredictable zigzagging. This is probably the harshest and realest test of the Haval H8 brakes. All other animals have predictable movement as they run in one direction or stop frozen, making it relatively easy to avoid them. Not roos. The direction of their next move is utterly unpredictable and lightning fast: I miss hitting a roo by a smidgen twice. Very quickly, I learn that the only option when roos get too close for comfort is to brake to a complete stop, wait for it to go away and drive on. Repeat as many times as you see a roo closing in. Needless to say the last 200km to Quilpie were the longest in the history of driving.

QuilpieOpal buyer shop in Quilpie

The sense of achievement reaching sleepy Quilpie without any dramatic kangaroo encounter almost matches what I felt arriving in Birdsville. This opal-mining town of less than 600 inhabitants, the railhead from which cattle are sent to the coast a further 1.000km to the east, should be my second-last stop before Sydney. I don’t think anyone has ever been happier to reach Quilpie than me that night. A nasty surprise awaits in the morning though…

Stay tuned for the last instalment of this series: Quilpie to Sydney and full review of Damo.

China June 2016: Focus on the All-new models

Mazda CX-4 China June 2016. Picture courtesy autohome.com.cn

* See the June 2016 Top 393 All China-made models and Top 70 brands here *

Although Chinese June sales fuelled up 18%, this month of the year is traditionally slower in terms of novelties coming onto the market. After 9 all-new China-made nameplates made their first appearance in the May ranking, this figure slows down to two in June – the same as June 2015. As is the tradition each month, BSCB puts a laser focus on these new entries to keep you up-to-the-minute about the largest car market in the world. It’s no surprise the two newcomers are SUVs, but the fact they are both foreign brands is a surprise.

Mazda CX-4 China June 2016. Picture courtesy of autohome.com.cn

1. Mazda CX-4 (#92 – 6.347 sales)

Incomprehensibly, Mazda hasn’t launched the CX-3 in China yet. Instead, the Japanese carmaker unveiled in Beijing last April its very first China-only nameplate: the CX-4 SUV. Although Mazda hasn’t ruled out export to other countries – Australia where Mazda holds a 10% market share is drooling over it – the company hasn’t announced any plans either. A very aggressive design immediately positions the CX-4 among the best looking SUVs on sale at the moment, and Chinese customers agree: it already sold 6.347 units in May, already the brand’s 2nd best-seller below just the 3 Axela (10.603) and above the CX-5 (4.248). Priced between 140.800 and 215.800 yuan (US$ 21.100-32.300), the CX-4 is manufactured by the FAW-Mazda joint-venture in Changchun and powered by a choice of 2.0L or 2.5L SkyActive petrol engines mated with a six-speed automatic, meaning it can’t benefit for tax-cuts allowed to 1.6L or less.

Mazda CX-4 China June 2016. Picture courtesy autohome

Mazda is marketing the CX-4 as a sportier version of the CX-5 in China, and although the CX-4 is longer (4.63m vs. 4.56m), it is indeed shorter (1.54m vs. 1.71m) and definitely looks a lot sportier. Somewhat disappointingly, the CX-4 shares most of its interior with the 3. This format places it right into the most competitive foreign SUV segment, along with the blockbusters VW Tiguan (16.145 sales in June), Nissan X-Trail (15.920), Honda CR-V (14.883), Hyundai Tucson (13.203) and Ford Kuga (7.297) as well as newcomers Kia KX5 (8.493) and Jeep Cherokee (8.702). Hitting a 5-digit monthly sales figure should be the objective for the CX-4.

Bar for success: 10.000 monthly sales

Jeep Renegade China June 2016

2. Jeep Renegade (#204 – 1.678 sales)

Jeep became a local manufacturer last November when it launched the China-made version of the Cherokee, of which over 58.000 units have since been sold, peaking at 9.201 last April. The Renegade inaugurates a new plant in Guangzhou, operated by the joint-venture between GAC and FCA with an annual capacity of 160.000 vehicles. This means the Renegade is now produced in three countries: Italy, Brazil and China, the most locations of any Jeep nameplate and the only one not produced in North America at all. It is priced between 141.800 and 178.880 yuan (US$21.200 – 26,700), very close to its U.S. price ($18.990-27.990) whereas the Chinese Cherokee incurred a 50% price premium on its U.S. equivalent (see China November 2015: Focus on the All-new models). The Renegade is 4.25m long and is powered by either a 1.4T matched to a 7DCT or a 2.0L mated with a 9AT, with both front-wheel drive and 4WD versions available – some very modern mechanics here.

Even though it is a lot more affordable than the Cherokee, the Renegade may have a hard time finding its clientele in China, as their inaugural sales months already show (1.678 vs. 2.171). At this price point and size, the Renegade indeed finds itself in a bit of a black hole, where only the Honda XR-V and Vezel twins have truly succeeded among foreign carmakers so far (4.28m, 127.800-189.800 yuan and 27.461 combined sales in June). The Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Peugeot 2008 and Citroen C3-XR all quickly faltered after promising launches. But this is where it gets tricky: for this price point you can now afford high quality, much larger Chinese SUVs such as the Geely Emgrand GS (4.40m, 77.800-108.800 yuan) or Geely Boyue (4.52m, 98.800-157.800 yuan). A lower sales target than what the Cherokee is currently selling seems therefore adequate.

Bar for success: 6.500 monthly sales

Previous month: China May 2016: Focus on the All-new models

One year ago: (see end of article) China June 2015: First monthly year-on-year decline in over 6 years