Chengdu street scene
This is the 7th instalment in our 2016 Chinese adventures after Beijing, Xining in the Qinghai province, the Chinese car dealerships of Xining, Tongren, Xiahe in the Gansu province and the mountain road back from Xiahe to Xining. We are now flying south-east to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province and home to a whopping 14 million inhabitants – that’s much more than Paris or London. The main attraction in Chengdu is the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base where you can observe Sichuan’s most famous residents chomping on bamboo at lunch time.
Chengdu is the fifth-most populous agglomeration in China, but the quiet streets of its old quarter are where it is at its most comfortable. Filled with traditional tea houses complete with bamboo chairs and wooden tables offering jasmine, long jing and biluochun tea, the old Chengdu had a vibe that I hadn’t experienced before in China. Its laid-back locals and succulent cuisine also helped.
VW Jetta Taxis lining up at Chengdu International AirportChengdu street sceneCitroen C-Elysée taxi and VW Lamando in Chengdu
Exclusive FY2014 Ranking by province published on BSCB shows that the VW Jetta is by far the best-selling nameplate in Sichuan, and looking at the car landscape in Chengdu, this domination has a lot (but not all) to do with taxi companies. Chendgu taxis are composed of only two nameplates: the old and new generations VW Jetta, with a healthy amount of new generation Citroen C-Elysée thrown in the mix. All Chengdu taxis run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
Brilliance H330 in between Peugeot 308and Chana MinivanBrilliance H230
A couple of striking characteristics of the Chengdu car landscape are the strength of Brilliance brand with the V3 small crossover already well established and a constant stream of sedans otherwise not-so-successful nationally such as the H230 and H330. The Roewe brand is also stronger than expected with the 360 sedan already popular, and PSA Peugeot-Citroen is as popular in Chengdu today as it was 10-15 years ago (meaning: very). Loads of Peugeot 206 sedans and “civilian” Citroen C-Elysée can be spotted in town. Overall though, there can be full traffic light-loads of cars with not a single Chinese brand within them in Chengdu, in a car park that impresses with its young age given the size of this city and the amount of cars sold each year. In order to succeed here, Chinese carmaker will have to “premiumise” and do it fast – in the vein of what Haval, Geely and Changan are currently doing – in order to succeed with Chengdu customers.
In fact, below the VW Jetta the Haval H6 was the best-selling nameplate in Sichuan in our exclusive 2014 ranking by province, and although it doesn’t clearly appear in the car landscape I saw, it does make absolute sense that a so-called premium brand (by Chinese standards) is the most popular here. The other best-sellers include the Ford Focus – now replaced in Chengdu hearts by the Escort, the VW Sagitar and Lavida, confirmed by my sightings that also included the new Bora, Toyota Corolla, Honda XR-V, Changan Eado, Geely GC9 (both confirming the Chinese premium trend), Renault Koleos and Buick Verano among the most frequent.