We are now getting into the five most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show 2016, in other words the creme de la creme. These ultimate spots are full of surprises with two all-new entrants and a new overall leader. But for now we’ll go from 5th to third place. You can see Part 1 (#30 to #21) here, Part 2 (#20 to #11) here and Part 3 (#10 to #6) here. All the justifications behind the rankings are below.
5. Cowin (-,-)
Chery spun off the Cowin sub-brand into a standalone marque in August 2014, and premiered it at the Chengdu Auto Show in September of that year, yet didn’t dare to show it off at the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show. It therefore makes its very first appearance in our “most impressive” ranking. And what a start! Far from the Chery stand and proudly displaying its very own identity, Cowin lands directly in 5th place. The Cowin brand is positioned below Chery in price and aimed a younger buyers purchasing their first vehicle. This is where the progress of Chinese brands over the past decade is striking: such a positioning would have then resulted in drab offerings, but Cowin is anything but.
Cowin wants to be the “connected” Chinese carmaker and isn’t shy about it on the stand: impossible to miss it. It follows through with an avalanche of new models. Alongside with the current C3 sedan and C3R hatch already in market, Cowin introduced the X3 SUV – designed by Granstudio, a design agency established by former Pininfarina design director Lowie Vermeersch – and the 7-seat V3 SUV featuring a 10.1-inch screen in the center console. Plus the X5 SUV concept looking decidedly production-ready. Three new very current-looking SUVs for a brand that’s making its first appearance in a major Auto Show? Welcome to China.
Chery Tiggo 7
4. Chery (20,26)
Last year in Shanghai I liked Chery’s hungry attitude and agreed with the clear direction its two sub-brands were taking (Tiggo for SUVs and Arrizo for the rest). This year Chery confirmed they back in the game and could even be headed back to their glorious time of half-a-decade ago where the brand was among the top-sellers at home. Had I not attended last November’s Guangzhou Auto Show, it would have been the first time I saw the Kia lookalike (in a good way) Arrizo 5, and great progress has been made here already. But the even better news came from the Tiggo sub-brand…
All at once, Chery introduced two new Tiggo SUVs that, for the first time for the brand, get rid of any Toyota RAV4 inspiration. The new Tiggo 7 really impressed with its exterior design, playing right in the current trends and also the creation of Granstudio, the design agency established by former Pininfarina design director Lowie Vermeersch. No one would be complaining if the new Toyota RAV4 looked like this, which is a massive statement in itself. Chery also unveiled the Tiggo 3X (why not 2 or 4?), with a more conventional design. A slight negative for the brand are its interiors, in clear progress compared to 2015 but not quite up there with the likes of Geely or even Zotye yet.
Chery’s EV range
The EV models were neatly assembled in one corner of the Chery stand and all sported the same colour: the Tiggo 7 already present within this range alongside the Arrizo 5 and 7 and the eQ. Finally, Chery went all out with this year’s concept car: the FV2030. It’s nice to have you back Chery.
3. Borgward (-,-)
Some will argue this is a German brand, but its renaissance has nothing to do with Germany and everything to do with China’s Beiqi Foton, property of BAIC Group. Last September, I cringed at how much of a faux pas it was to relaunch the brand at the Frankfurt Auto Show, especially with a misleading “accessible premium” positioning. I stand by it, it was a mistake. But if the only objective was to get press in China and make the brand look more premium here – like anything European it seems – then it may have been a good idea. In any case, I was expecting a tiny stand with the lone BX7 unveiled just 6 months ago. How far-off was I…
The Borgward stand was as big as most foreign carmakers that have been selling cars for decades, and along the BX7, the marque unveiled two new SUVs: the BX5 and the BX6 TS. The brand smartly played up the “Since 1919” slogan – even though Borgward hasn’t produced any cars since 1961 – as well as its Europan heritage and in a Chinese context the SUVs present on the stand look right on-trend. Why waste time with sedans when SUVs are what Chinese consumers want? Borgward understood it, and it understood it well.
The iconic 1954 Borgward Isabella Coupe is actually the first car you see when entering the brand’s stand, and a video playing on a giant screen enumerates the brand’s achievements at the peak of its glory: “A direct competitor to Mercedes”, “One of Germany’s Top 4 Carmakers” (along with Volkswagen, Opel and Mercedes), “The most complete product lineup of the time” and “Cumulative sales of 1 million units”. Heritage is a big deal in China so Borgward is right on the mark here.
Finally, whereas the BAIC Group still has a lot to learn when it comes to handling brands – exhibiting Senova, Foton Gratour, Huansu and Changhe next to each other this year – it has done a magnificent job with Borgward, located in a separate area from BAIC and standing on its own like a truly established brand. Very impressive.