The moment you have all been waiting for has finally arrived. Now an annual tradition at BSCB, I give you the ranking of the Chinese carmakers that impressed me the most at Auto Shanghai 2015. If last year in Beijing this ranking was somewhat ‘pure’ as I had little expectations from any carmakers and was stepping in all Chinese cars for the first time, this year is a little different as I come armed with what I saw in Beijing.
Auto Shanghai being roughly 4 to 5 times larger than Beijing, now including light, medium and heavy trucks, this ranking is a lot more detailed, with a lot more explanation as to why I ranked each brand that way. Everything comes into consideration: from the interior/exterior quality and design of the models exposed, the number/validity of new cars, concept cars, staff availability, savviness and friendliness as well as whether or not they improved since last year. Once again we are going up the ladder from last to first in pure, old-fashioned hit parade tradition. In brackets is the brand’s ranking last year at the Beijing Auto Show.
Not ranked: ZX Auto / Lianhua (23) / Wuling (11)
This was a surprise, ZX Auto producing the legendary Tiger pick-up truck very popular in the Chinese countryside (and notably in Xinjiang Uyghur), was expected to be here. Either they were and I didn’t see them meaning they didn’t market themselves well, or they weren’t and it worries me as they just launched the GX3 SUV onto the Chinese market. Lianhua (aka Youngman Lotus) wasn’t present either. As to Wuling, the brand was present at the Show in the same stand as Baojun but whereas in Beijing they showed the Hongguang S this year they didn’t bother showing any model, not even the all-new Hongguang V whose sales are rocketing up already. For the best-selling Chinese brand at home (1.4 million units in 2014), it’s a little awkward.
35. (27) Denza
Already not among my favourites last year in Beijing, the EV brand Denza (a BYD-Daimler joint-venture) is sinking down to the lowest level in my ranking because there was absolutely nothing exciting about its delivery at Auto Shanghai. I’ve already covered the fact that its unique model is plain ugly, but its stand was bland and its press conference was someone reading through a very 1985-looking Powerpoint presentation that reminded me of when I started using this application a loooong time ago. Denza also made the mistake of translating the ppt into English…
Now we all know Denza is boasting the original price of 369.000 yuan (US$59.600) is reduced to a mere 275.000 (US$44.400) with government subsidies. That’s the price of the base Audi A4L here, so make your choice ladies and gentlemen, and that Denza received “positive feedback” from the market. That, in Denza speak, means selling a mere 267 units since launch. Granted, Denza’s very existence is solely due to the government ordering manufacturers to produce EVs but they are showing me they are not even trying to do it well and are completely out of touch with the market, keeping in mind absolutely all mass Chinese brands had more than just a token EV on their stand this year. No thanks.
34. (-) Changhe
Changhe didn’t appear in my ranking last year because their only model was lost in a sea of other brands, but this time they won’t escape my wrath. The US$10.900 A6 is a revamped Suzuki Liana that should feature the ChangHe Suzuki logo but has the Changhe logo instead. First mistake. The exterior design is all that can be expected from trying to make a 2001 Liana look presentable and current, and the interior looks, feels and smells cheap, much cheaper than a $US7.000 FAW. Don’t exhibit the Changhe brand next time, ChangAn. It’s actually surprising they did so as ChangAn had no qualms ditching all of its Chana commercial vehicles from its Chana stand. I’d say do the same with Changhe as showing the A6 is actually hurting the brand.
33. (6) BAIC
Yes, the almighty BAIC Group is freefalling down my ranking. First let’s acknowledge that BAIC, based in Beijing, is not on its home turf here, and that their performance at the Beijing Auto Show last year was potentially boosted by the fact they were at home. But here’s the thing: if you are not strong in Shanghai, shouldn’t you work twice as hard to make a good impression here? BAIC didn’t think so. All models bar a couple are plain and boring white and austere. I got to sit inside the hot-selling Huansu S3 and was bitterly disappointed by how cheap everything feels and looks.
The only fun car in the BAIC stand was the BAW BJ20 but although all doors were unlocked a nervous sales person rushed to tell me I can’t get inside. Too late! Hint: if you don’t want media to get inside your car and take pictures (of an actually pretty cool interior), lock the said car… BAIC earns bonus points for riding the SUV wave and introducing the Senova X55 but this is in fact a Huansu S3 redesigned in a rush that has the potential to harm the Senova “brand” – of which the Senova D80 looked pretty decent but was locked.
On this. A pet hate of mine is how some Chinese carmakers are mishandling their brands and sub-brands. Not many got it right and they get rewarded greatly for doing so in this ranking. BAIC is getting it very wrong. Are Weiwang, Senova and Huansu sub-brands or brands? It’s not clear looking at the BAIC stand. They all have different logos, with the Senova sub-brand using the BAIC logo. Or is it the Senova logo? Then BAW who sells Jeeps doesn’t actually have a proper logo. Worse: none of these brands were mentioned anywhere on the stands and all models were huddled together with no logic. And please can someone tell BAIC that their slogan “Your wish – Our ways” is just not right and sounds a tad too assertive to me. Sort yourselves out BAIC!
32. (13) FAW
Another carmaker falling down my ranking and another carmaker that thinks shining outside of its home turf Beijing is too hard. Last year I was impressed by how good the cheaper end of the FAW lineup was looking. So I came with high expectations and was disappointed. The naming of the models is getting more and more confusing: the only new car I could see was the “A-Class” looking ok from the outside but a little bland inside. In the commercial vehicle exhibition hall, the FAW Trucks stand was equally underwhelming, even though they are the Chinese truck maker with the longest experience – they are not called First Automotive Works for nothing. The Light Commercial Vehicle stand was really the most basic display I saw at the Show, with no real effort to spruce up some very ordinary models. What of the Besturn sub-brand, so successful at home in Changchun? The hot-selling X80 SUV is a mix of good and bad: some good exterior design ideas but the interior is cheap and the doors feel light and flimsy. I can’t wait to see FAW in a good mood in Beijing next year…
31. (30) Hawtai
Last year in Beijing I said Hawtai was the most deceptive Chinese brand because of unbelievably fragile interiors lurking behind some pretty good design and sleek promotion material. I also said that with up-to-scratch interior Hawtai could climb inside my Top 20. Well nothing has changed at Hawtai, except the much larger stand. The Shengdafei only went on sale a couple of months ago and I had a split second of horror when I stepped into it as I thought I actually had broken the door handle when opening it. Not a very good first impression to give your customers, to say the least. Only good point: the Shengdafei’s seats are well finished and comfortable.
30. (-) Howo
The presence of heavy commercial vehicles in an entire exhibition hall of their own at Auto Shanghai means I have a more layered view on some manufacturers also operating in this segment, but there are also new brands in the ranking. Howo belongs to Sinotruk, and showed a robust show delivery with all trucks available to check out, and an effort made on the truck colours (yes, I noticed). On the negative side, the staff was inexistent or when they actually stood next to me, looked at me a little warily. On the plus side, Sinotruck didn’t lose themselves too much (still a bit) with different brands and sub-brands. Howo is clearly their flagship brand and I could see that on the stand. Others, more discreet, include CDW, CNHTC and Sitrak. Looking good Howo.
29. (-) Higer
Originally a van/bus specialist now dabbling in pickups and light commercial vehicles, Higer is another newcomer in my ranking. “Higer takes you higher!” has an exhaustive brochure that taught me about their entire lineup in a matter of seconds, and I am grateful for the education as I always thrive to know more about the Chinese automotive industry. However looking more closely, the delivery starts to fall apart a bit. The entire staff had to be mobilised to give me the price of their newest offering, the Higer Longwei pickup truck, which is a thinly disguised copy of the previous generation Ford F-150 – but not the only one at the Show.
Even including a wifi router, its interior is from a time long lost and its starting price of 128,800 yuan (US$20,790 – I was quoted 100,000 yuan by the staff) seems a little excessive in the very competitive – and affordable – world of Chinese pickups. The start of the brochure reads so: “After 16 years of difficult exploration and struggling growth, Higer has built a modern bus manufacturing base.” We thank you for your honesty Higer, and we hope you will take us higher next time.
28. (-) Landwind
Landwind didn’t bother exhibiting in Beijing, but they are well and truly present in Shanghai with a sizeable stand and a new hero: the already notorious X7, an almost identical replica of the Range Rover Evoque, with a pricetag starting at a mere US$19.000 vs. US$72.000 for the real Evoque. And here is the reason why Landwind ranks so low. Up to 5-6 years ago, Chinese manufacturers were all busy unscrupulously copying foreign designs and getting away with it (Chery QQ anyone?). They have since evolved to create their own design, if just a tad ‘inspired’ by foreign carmakers, with Geely for example now using Volvo’s head of design as their own.
The X7 makes Landwind the last (?) of its kind in China in the way they are so blatantly copying Land Rover. The worst/best thing is, the interior quality and design is actually rather impressive for the price. Looking closer at the exterior shows some very lazy fittings however. The X7 is a pure exercise of brand value: you could buy 4 top-spec Landwind X7 for the price of one top-spec Range Rover Evoque produced in China. Would you? Putting myself in the shoes of the Chinese youth that want to show off and drive a comfortable car while doing so, the choice is very easy. Clever or nasty? You be the judge.
27. (-) Joylong
I vaguely knew the existence of this brand that mainly manufactures rebranded Toyota Hiace vans under licence but its presence at Auto Shanghai etched it into my brain, because they exhibited a luxury variant, the A6, complete with a bed at the back that goes for US$51.000. The staff were attentive, knowledgeable and courteous. Discreet brand but nothing bad to say about it. Long live Joylong!
26. (4) Haima
The third freefall in my ranking is a brand clearly outside its comfort zone in Shanghai. Although a subsidiary of FAW, Haima is based in Hainan in the South of the country, so georgraphically speaking shouldn’t give priority to Beijing over Shanghai, rather the contrary. Still, it feels like Haima has stayed static in the past year. Yes there is a new model exhibited, the m6, but it is all but impressive even with the help of a bright yellow race car variant next to it. The Haima S5 unveiled in Beijing last year has become in the space of a few months the brand’s best-seller (#97 so far in 2015) so I was expecting at least one addition to the SUV family, but it wasn’t meant to be, and it’s not a Turbo variant of the m8 that will revive its comatose sales (just 235 units so far in 2015). It would appear Haima is having a hard time cutting the umbilical cord with Mazda.
25. (24) Brilliance
Brilliance launched a new brand for Auto Shanghai (more on this later), bringing the number of its brands to 3 and they were all very well separated and clearly indicated on the stand. Bonus points for that. As for the namesake brand, interior design and quality still hasn’t come to the dance, with all models feeling plastic, harsh and hollow. However Brilliance made the right choice for its only newcomer at the Show: the small SUV V3 is pretty good-looking from the front, butt-ugly from the back, but is a critical addition to Brilliance’s lineup, one that will allow the brand to play in the hottest segment of all. It should give a welcome boost to Brilliance’s sales in China: the ageing V5 is the brand’s new best-seller this year with sales up 35% in line with China’s newfound craze for SUVs.
24. (16) Jinbei
A solid delivery for Brilliance’s Jinbei: good demarcation from the namesake brand, the entire lineup exhibited, and a couple of bonus tracks in the form of extravagantly well-furbished motor homes, and interiors a world apart from Brilliance, masking the absence of any real novelty. The commercial vehicle stand showed off something for each pricetag and the English-speaking member of the staff rushed towards me when I looked like I had a question. The stands were much larger than the microscopic portion of the Brilliance stand it held in Beijing, so a good evolution here. Professional, efficient, if a little unexciting, but this is a brand specialised in MPVs after all – and kudos for keeping to what you’re good at and improving at it.
23. (10) Venucia
I was enchanted by Venucia last year, and had I seen their stand for the first time today I would probably be too this year but unfortunately this is now old news. The T70 launched a couple of months ago and was an instant blockbuster as expected, even eclipsing all other models in the Venucia lineup. That leaves Venucia with nothing new to show expect an interesting-looking Vow concept that probably won’t translate into anything tangible, so far away it is from the current lineup. Bonus points for imagination though. What prevents Venucia from falling further down is the the fact that it now behaves as its own brand – completely separate from Nissan in its delivery. And this is a big deal.
22. (20) MG
MG’s point of difference in the Chinese market is its UK brand heritage and it played this card smartly last year at the Beijing Auto Show. This year this heritage is a lot more subdued on the MG stand: apart from an MG 3 hanging out sideways with a UK flag on its roof, there is no reference to this heritage at all. This is a shame because it gave the MG brand a sort of Chinese-English blended flair that all other Chinese carmakers would kill for. The MG GS SUV is the big novelty on the stand and it looks good outside but its interior appeared to me a tad on the childish note. We get it, MG is the ‘young’ brand in the SAIC stable but this is still supposed to be a car, not a toy (right?). Very friendly hostesses were keen to offer me all kinds of brochures I was happy to take. I took one. Really I should apologise, and I do.
21. (-) Kawei
Relegated in Hall 6.2 where it was the only car manufacturer among auto parts makers, Kawei is bringing the enthusiastic and spontaneous spirit of last year’s Beijing Auto Show into Shanghai. Yes the K1 pickup and W1 SUV are blatant copies of the previous generation Ford F-150, their interior is very basic but not the worst I saw at the show, and definitely a lot of metal, torque and carrying ability for its price. From US$15.100 for the K1 you get a 5.56m long pickup truck with engines ranging from 2.4L petrol to 2.8L and 3.2L diesel.
Interesting: the Hummer logo stuck next to Kawei in al the stand livery. That is not because Kawei has taken over the license for production of the full-size Hummer, however the Chinese manufacturer is in charge of production of the MEV Hummer HX electric golf car (Thanks to our reader Anton for bring this to our knowledge). That would make sense as they had one exhibited on their stand. But this doesn’t lift Kawei to #21. What does is the flicker in the eyes of the staff as they watch walk around their stand, even taking pictures of me taking pictures of their cars. Cute.
Next batch is #20 to #11. Stay tuned…