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An ever more precise coverage of the Chinese auto market goes hand-in-hand with BSCB’s attendance at the local Auto Shows, a little off the beaten tracks. For the first time I was lucky enough to attend Guangzhou Auto Show. Needless to say I was one of a tiny contingent of Western press present here. Witnessing the behaviour of local carmakers at a Show almost exclusively dedicated to the local press and customers is a great opportunity to find out what they’re up to “when no one is watching” so to speak – on the world stage that is… I’ve summarised the 12 things you need to know about the Show below.
1. This is not a small Auto Show
Guangzhou Auto Show may be secondary in China to the Beijing and Shanghai Shows alternating each year in April, yet by Western standards this is a large Auto Show, housed at the China Import and Export Fair in Pazhou. There were a total of thirteen exhibition halls on two levels with Chinese carmakers allocated roughly one third of the entire space, plus numerous outdoor stands, putting Guangzhou almost at the same level as Paris in terms of surface allocated to the Show…
2. Glamour is back
Banned from the latest Shanghai Auto Show, starlets are back in force in Guangzhou, adding that bit of spice some Chinese carmakers desperately need to make their range look a lot sexier… I was also able to attend the first day open to the public, and it was a song and dance competition between all manufacturers to try and grab the attention of the numerous visitors. Volkswagen had a mildly impressive dance show, BAIC featured a rather naively choreographed dance, but the winner in this contest hands down was, surprisingly, JAC, with a very glamorous catwalk indeed.
3. A chest-beating exercise for local manufacturer GAC Group
As the sole local manufacturer, the Guangzhou Auto Show is a great opportunity for GAC Group to show off. And so it did, booking an entire exhibition hall to itself, including in it its joint-ventures with Honda and Toyota. GAC unveiled two concept cars: the EV Coupe hatch and the lavish i-Lounge luxury MPV with an impressive and finally rather attractive grille. It was also an opportunity for me to check the quality of the manufacturer’s instant blockbuster: the Trumpchi GS4 which sold over 20.000 units in October alone. And the quality is here: the interior is refined with a modern designs and the exterior has nothing to be ashamed of compared to its Japanese and Korean competitors. GAC is ready to export in my eyes.
4. Haval celebrates one million H6 sold
After topping my “most impressive Chinese carmakers” list both in Beijing 2014 and Shanghai 2015, Great Wall’s SUV-exclusive brand Haval is taking a breather in Guangzhou, with no new models exhibited. All is forgiven, after Haval revealed an avalanche of new products just six months ago in Shanghai. The Concept B and R (for Blue and Red) are here again, and the Haval stand is split in two with blue-logo’ed models on the right and red-logo’d ones on the left. On stage, the one millionth Haval H6 sold worldwide is showcased, a stunning achievement for the Chinese manufacturer.
Haval impresses again with a plush atmosphere and distances itself from all other manufacturers at the Show by deliberately choosing a “smart SUV” positioning: absolutely all models displayed apart the two concepts were brown with suit-and-tie attire all round for the hosts. No starlets to be seen anywhere. Haval wants to be taken seriously, and it managed it today, again.
But my favourite part of the Haval display in Guangzhou was outdoors: while nearby BYD was pumping the loudest music but wasn’t doing much on its stand, Haval very generously allowed a constant flow of journalists or public to board either an H8 or H9 and go through a 4WD “skills” circuit, driven around by professionals. It cleverly enhanced the two models’ four-wheel-drive and acrobatic abilities and was in line with the seriousness and professionalism displayed inside the exhibition hall. Once again, well done Haval.
5. DS and Qoros continue to pump money into new launches
At 1.334 deliveries for DS and 1.403 for Qoros in October or 0.07% market share each, these two brands are stuck at minuscule sales levels in China. Yet PSA Peugeot-Citroen and the Chery-Israel Corporation joint-venture both keep pumping millions of dollars into new launches. Just as the Chinese SUV market cannot be hotter and consumers are migrating en masse from sedans to crossovers, DS is launching the 4S hatchback… Exactly the model the DS range needed to see its sales take off. Not! Chery is a little smarter with the Qoros 5 SUV that has a definite air of Range Rover Evoque. Like the previous 3 hatch, sedan and SUV, the Qoros 5 is looking and feeling good, robust and solid, but will sales follow? The answer by mid-2016.
6. Chery Arrizo 5, ChangAn CS15, BYD Yuan and Dongfeng AX7 launch
Although much smaller than in Shanghai, the number of new launches in the Chinese manufacturers’ aisle was still significant in Guangzhou. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority were SUVs. A notable exception was Chery, unveiling the surprisingly handsome Arrizo 5 compact sedan. Cleverly, Chery has restricted its models on display to its slightly more upmarket Arrizo range (3, 5 and 7) and Tiggo SUV range (3 and 5). Keep it this way Chery, it somehow is a little clearer now. ChangAn revealed a mini-crossover, the CS15, yet impossible to sit inside so I won’t be able to let you know whether it is closer in quality to the CS35 (low) or the CS75 (good).
Dongfeng is catching on the SUV bandwagon with a station wagon-looking AX7, BYD unveiled the hybrid Yuan, its smallest SUV yet, and Jinbei had the S35 in store for us. Interestingly, Brilliance only had the V3 and V5 SUVs as well as the H330 sedan on its stand, having all but given up on selling sedans at home in China. A good choice. Last but not least, on the SAIC stand we could see the MG brand logo subtitled with “My Glamour”. It’s the first time I see this – it may have appeared before but I had not noticed. Where has “Morris Garages” gone?
7. MPVs are not dead
Even though sales of the MPV segment have lost a bit of steam over the past six months, the segment is as dynamic as ever as evidenced in Guangzhou. SAIC-GM Wuling was proudly showing off the redesigned Hongguang S1, now looking very much similar to its more up-market sibling the Baojun 730. The Wuling stand was capped with a giant screen showing, among other ads, a striking and aspiring Baojun brand video that featured various landscapes and peoples of China. I have yet to find it online but will post it as soon as I do.
Lifan Lotto S: I see what you’re doing here…
The other interesting MPV news came from Lifan, presenting a top-spec, brown-coloured Lotto S with a rather appealing interior – at least more appealing than all Lifan models presented bar the 820. Same colour, same “luxury” trim: Lifan is doing a Wuling Hongguang S on us, and it might very well work.
8. Chinese branding shenanigans
The adventures in branding of Chinese manufacturers are always entertaining to follow, and this year’s Guangzhou Auto Show is no exception. BAIC Motor is clearly struggling with taking pride in its own brand, and is trying different ways to push a couple of sub-brands up. First is Senova, with the X25 SUV recently launching in market and the X45 soon-to-follow, all positioned below the existing X55. Even though the grille features a BAIC logo, the back of all SUVs present at the show had the sub-brand “Senova” displayed in big letters, exactly like GAC is doing with its Trumpchi sub-brand. Fair, but BAIC is operating completely differently with its Huansu sub-brand…
…this time giving it a full-blown different logo on the grille as pictured on the Huansu H3 MPV above. No sign of the Huansu sub-brand on the back of the car, even on the new Huansu S6 SUV displayed on the BAIC stand. Changhe for its part remains a separate brand with a separate logo yet twin models: the Changhe Q25 is none other than a rebadged BAIC Senova X25. Confusing much? Finally, Geely is doing almost everything right once again with a posh stand and significantly more refined models than in recent past – Volvo-designed GC9 sedan I’m talking about you – yet they still displayed a GX7 SUV with a Gleagle logo, a brand they killed almost two years ago (see below)!
8. Toyota goes astray with its new Leahead EV brand
Originally unveiled as a concept at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, with the Leahead i1 – based on the previous generation Toyota Yaris hatchback – the GAC-Toyota joint-venture shows us what the Chinese government is forcing them to do: cheap EV cars. The interior looks and feels cheaper than almost every car present at the Guangzhou Auto Show, actually damaging the brand reputation of Toyota as far as I am concerned. Quick Toyota, go hide this Leahead i10 far, far away from me right now.
9. Renault gearing up towards local production kick-start
In Guangzhou Renault officially unveiled the Kadjar SUV, already a success in Europe and the first vehicle it will produce in China, in a new plant in Wuhan, central China, run by Renault’s joint venture with Dongfeng. The Kadjar is due to hit Chinese dealerships in March 2016, before Renault adds the Koleos SUV, currently its best-seller in the country but imported only, towards the end of 2016. Renault sold 34.000 imported vehicles in 2014 and has a production capacity of 150.000 annual vehicles in Wuhan. The marketing push was clear and strong in Guangzhou, with giant banners above the road next to the venue, and a stand featuring Formula 1 and sporty Megane RS to give the brand a faster edge. We’ll have to wait the end of 2016 for the true verdict: sales.
10. Nissan is moving ahead with a very literal youth campaign
At this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, Nissan was all about attracting younger consumers through its new China-only Lannia sedan. They are now following through on their promise with a very literal advertising campaign “Show Young” that includes the Lannia, Murano and Qashqai. That’s because at long last, over two years after its worldwide launch the new generation Qashqai is finally available in China, now sitting alongside the X-Trail, Murano and Patrol in a Nissan SUV range that is starting to look mighty indeed.
11. Honda launches a second China-only nameplate: the Greiz
Building on the tremendous success of the CRider – especially here in Guangzhou as I will detail in a Photo Report of the cars in town – Honda launched the all-new Greiz in Guangzhou. Manufactured by the Dongfeng-Honda joint-ventured, it’s actually not that all-new, as the Greiz is in fact a sporty version of the City, whose new generation also launched in Guangzhou and is manufactured by the other joint-venture the Japanese manufacturer has set up in China: with GAC Group. Honda had already done a similar move with the twin crossovers Honda XR-V (Dongfeng) and Vezel (GAC). Toyota also has done the same with the current generation Corolla (FAW) and Levin (GAC).
12. Volkswagen is not loosening its focus on China
Following the diesel scandal that seems never-ending and ever-expanding, Volkswagen has already shown it will not loosen its focus on China, exempting a planned investment of 30 billion yuan in China from a worldwide cost-cutting campaign. That’s because Volkswagen’s worldwide profits heavily depends on China, by far its biggest cash cow in the world as I detailed in my series STRATEGY: Why Volkswagen is losing foot in China. The situation will only lean further towards China as profits in Europe and the U.S. are under intense threat following the scandal. In Guangzhou, the German carmaker had the largest stand of all carmakers present at the Show and unveiled nothing less than the new Lavida, its best-seller in the country. A lot more modern outside but still very boring inside, the new Lavida will nevertheless convince the Chinese masses as the previous generations of the nameplate have before it. On the public day I attended, the VAG Group exhibition hall was packed to the rafters, especially the ever-aspiring Audi stand. On a final note, Skoda has launched a new marketing line in China – “Since 1895” – that positions it even further away from the value-for-money box it currently masters in Europe.