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After covering the highlights of the Guangzhou Auto Show, we are now going in the streets of one of the largest cities in China. Guangzhou is located in the Guangdong province in southern China, only 174 km (108 miles) north of Hong Kong. Guangdong is the most populated province in China and the only one to house more than 100 million inhabitants at 106.4m. However these are long-term residents only and it is estimated than an additional 100 million migrant workers currently live in the province temporarily to some degree. This region of the world is one of the most densely populated with Guangzhou (also known as Canton in the West) totalling 12 million inhabitants, its close neighbour Foshan counting 6 million, Shenzhen just half an hour south at 14 million and Hong Kong at 7 million!
Guangzhou is the country’s No. 1 business transport and trade hub, having mixed with foreign traders for centuries – and it shows. Shamian Island, an lush oasis in the middle of the bustling city, houses numerous 19th century houses built by the British and French as they were permitted to set up their warehouses here. Enning Road is a vertigo-inducing pedestrian avenue lined up with hundreds of clothing stores ranging from bargain basement to posh European brands. The spectacular Guangzhou Opera House, designed by Zaha Hadid and inaugurated in 2010, is already ageing with its facade already challenged by the natural elements. The Canton Tower adds a futuristic edge to this fast-evolving city.
Hyundai Sonata MoInca taxis at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
What about the cars in the street? The first shock when hitting the street once customs are cleared in Guangzhou Airport is the prevalence of old generation Hyundai Sonata taxis. Similarly to Beijing where taxi companies have encouraged Hyundai to keep producing the Elantra from three generations ago, in Guangzhou the 1998 Sonata, renamed Sonata MoInca, is enjoying an extended life as a new model – almost exclusively as a taxi.
The second striking element in the Guangzhou car park is the weakness all around of the Volkswagen brand. Completely flooding the north-east of the country I visited earlier this year, the German manufacturer gets noticed by its absence in Guangzhou. Instead, Japanese manufacturers are feasting on the market, with Nissan, Honda and Toyota all tremendously successful here.
In fact, according to data that published on BSCB, four of the five best-selling models in the Guangdong province in 2014 were Japanese. The #1 sold 16.000 more units in Guangdong than any other nameplate in any other single province last year, and it’s the Nissan Sylphy – produced locally in Guangzhou by the Dongfeng-Nissan joint-venture. I also noticed in Guangzhou the (discreet) appearance of the previous generation Sylphy still on the Nissan catalogue as the Sylphy Classic.
The second best-seller in the province is the Toyota Corolla – and I didn’t really need official figures to have guessed it, judging by the endless flow of new generation models streaming through town, along with its twin the Toyota Levin. More surprising is the third place of the Honda CRider, a total blockbuster hit in Guangzhou meaning it scores its only Top 5 province ranking in the entire country here.
In fact, a lot Japanese nameplates ranking high in the national sales charts but eerily absent from the northern Chinese streets I have visited so far such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are all to be reassuringly found here. Most Hondas are popular in Guangzhou: the Fit, Crosstour, Jade, City and Odyssey can be spotted in healthy amounts, and the twin crossovers XR-V and Vezel are instant smash hits in town. In the Toyota aisle, the Vios, Yaris-L and Corolla EX are also very frequent as is the Prado SUV.
The Ford Focus ranked 4th overall in 2014 but judging by the amount of new Escorts in Guangzhou streets it should be overtaken by its younger and smaller sibling this year. The Fiat Viaggio and Ottimo are selling dramatically better than their national rankings indicate – respectively #202 and #248 in October – simply because they are produced locally through the GAC-Fiat joint-venture. Subaru is also a lot more successful in Guangzhou that I have found it to be in all other parts of China I have visited so far, with the Outback in great shape here.
Lastly and before we turn to Chinese carmakers, Venucia – a low-cost brand stemming out of the Dongfeng-Nissan joint-venture – is doing great business in Guangzhou with numerous T70 SUV spotted, the R50 hatch is surpisingly a lot more successful than the D50 sedan and the R30 is often proudly sporting its tiny Nissan March-inspired bonnet.
Wuling Hongguang V
On to the Chinese. The Chinese-to-foreign ratio varies wildly depending on the area of town studied, but never do Chinese manufacturers hold more than one-third of the car park. Their ratio goes from less than 10% in Zhujiang New Town to 17% in neighbour city Foshan, 25% near Shamian Island and almost 30% in the commercial part of town in Xilang. Given Guangzhou’s central trade and business role in the country, it’s not surprising that the large majority of Chinese fare on the streets are still Wuling, Chana and Dongfeng microvans. On top of the bruised and battered Rongguang, Sunshine and Hongguang vans, I spotted a dozen new Hongguang V, a handful of Journey MPVs and the ubiquitous Mini Truck in market areas.
The two local Chinese manufacturers are also logically making themselves noticed. The GAC Group is injecting a healthy flow of Trumpchi GS4 SUVs in the Guangzhou traffic, with the older GS5 also doing well, while BYD sports the G5 and Qin sedans, S6 and S7 SUVs and M6 MPV in large numbers but, surprisingly, very few F3 sedans. Haval is here in force: I spotted a dozen new generation H6 including the shortened H6 Coupe.
There are traces of a once-upon-a-time Brilliance domination in the Guangzhou park, yet it seems to have gone for good looking at the small amount of shiny new models, with only one V3 SUV spotted. Baojun justifies its astounding success in the national rankings by showcasing numerous 730 MPVs and 560 SUVs in Guangzhou streets. Two brand-new Geely GC9 also made their appearance before my eyes, as impressive in real life as they are in Auto Shows.
A thirty minute ride on the Guangzhou Metro takes you to neighbour city Foshan, and already the car park is slightly different: coming out of the big metropolis that Guangzhou is, the Wuling Hongguang reclaims its stranglehold on the new car market in Foshan while the Nissan Tiida seemingly shoots up to #1 passenger car…
That’s all for the Guangzhou car park, I hope you have enjoyed exploring this town through these lines as much as I have over the past week. Next Chinese stop is Beijing for Auto China 2016 in April, so stay tuned!