Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmaker: Haval

Haval H8Haval H8

And the winner is… Haval, Great Wall’s SUV brand. This is Part 9 of my coverage of the Beijing Auto Show, check out also Part 1- First impressionsPart 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26Part 3: Most impressive #25 to #21Part 4: Most impressive #20 to #16Part 5: Most impressive #15 to #11Part 6: A Voyage through Beijing hutongsPart 7: Most impressive #10 to #6 and Part 8: Most impressive #5 to #2.

Haval standPart of the Haval stand at the Beijing Auto Show 2014

One of the main questions I hoped to answer by coming to the Beijing Auto Show was why on earth did Great Wall, steadily improving its brand recognition worldwide, decide to make Haval a stand-alone brand in China last year. One look at their stand and I knew why: Haval has developed a cachet and SUV single-mindedness that Great Wall can never hope to achieve at home. So perhaps it was a good decision after all, at least for China. It may be harder to impose the Haval brand worldwide however.

Haval brochuresHaval brochures

Haval ranks #1 in my most impressive list because it did everything right at the Show, starting with the huge stance Great Wall took by NOT exhibiting any Great Wall models. Keeping the company’s presence to Haval with one big, beautiful, kick-arse stand, black colour scheme and hidden projectors so your photos look amazing from any angle. It would be a bit like Citroen only exhibiting DS models at the Paris Auto Show! It makes sense when your aim is to establish an up-market brand, but the amount of internal politics that must have had to be overcome to arrive at this decision is dizzying. This already makes Great Wall the Show’s ballsiest Chinese carmaker.

Haval H6 SportAttentive Haval staff

Every time I stepped out of a Haval model, staff would thank me and close the door behind me. Yep, that’s the kind of treatment NO other manufacturer offered at any Auto Show I went to – even the most premium German or Italian brands. The brochures gladly dispensed by the discreetly smiley staff are the best in the entire Show: thick, sharp, playing with a mix of matte and shiny colours and keeping the Haval logo small everywhere with the apt slogan “The No.1 SUV brand in China”.

Haval Dakar Rally Racecar Haval Dakar Rally Racecar

There is even a 30-page catalogue detailing Haval’s Dakar Rally prowess across the 5 years it has been participating in it. Along with it came the Dakar Rally Racecar exhibited in a devoted section of the Haval stand next to a Rally paraphernalia window display, adding another dynamic, reliable and premium feel to the SUV brand. A strong presence (I was unaware of until the Show) in the world’s toughest Rally for China’s No.1 SUV brand: it all makes perfect sense.

Haval Coupe ConceptHaval Coupe Concept

Stepping onto the Haval stand, I was looking forward to discovering the recently launched H6 Sport and the new H8 now on-track for an upcoming China launch in the next few months. What I got was an unexpected avalanche of very good-looking all-new models and concepts, all linked by a very recognisable family air without falling into the cloning trap. The Coupe Concept took centre stage and was bloody impressive indeed…

Haval H2Haval H2

…but I was most impressed by the two production-ready all-new models. The H2 looked great from every angle which is a challenge for a small SUV, and added a touch of sport with the Haval logo inserted next to the back side windows. The new flagship H9 looked reassuringly imposing and solid, with just enough chrome to make it look like a premium SUV but not a delirious over-designed attempt at playing with the big boys. The only negative aspect to point out is the cars’ interiors, better than most Chinese brands but not as impressive as the rest of the stand.

Haval H9

Haval H9

All-in-all I think what stoke me the most with Haval was the quietly enthusiastic, understated confidence that the brand gave off. Haval was miles ahead of any other Chinese brand at the Beijing Auto Show in this regard, and in fact in every other aspect except interiors where it was just (but still) ahead. Everything they did sounded and looked right: not too keen, not too serious, not too aloof. Haval, don’t change anything because you are doing it right.

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Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #5 to #2

Dongfeng Number 1 conceptDongfeng Number 1 Concept

This is it: the top of the crop, the utmost impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show. It doesn’t get better than this. Would you have guessed them? This is Part 8 of my Beijing Auto Show coverage, check out also Part 1- First impressionsPart 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 and Part 3 – #25 to #21Part 4 – #20 to #16Part 5 – #15 to #11Part 6: A Voyage through Beijing hutongs and Part 7: Most impressive #10 to #6.

#5 Dongfeng

PSA Peugeot Citroen’s new shareholder, Dongfeng is involved in some of the most successful joint-ventures in the country but had never surprised by its own branded cars. Until now. This brand was one of my biggest surprises at the Show, firstly by the size and the playful vibe in its stand, the amount of novelties they presented and (a pet fave of mine) the streamlining of a multitude of sub-brands into very clear Dongfeng Motors signage.

Dont mess with my Dongfeng Beijing 2014Dongfeng EQ2040H Brave Soldier Concept

Two all-new models: the Honda CR-V-inspired Fengshen AX7 and the surprisingly good-looking Fengxing S50, and three impressive concepts: the L60 sedan looking rather aggressive at the front, a Hummer-inspired totally insane EQ2040H Brave Soldier Concept knowing full-well how ludicrously pleasurable it is. The flagship Number 1 for its part has the potential to change everyone’s mind about DongFeng. Yes the technology is not new (Citroen C6) but damn it looks badass and imposingly slick. To top it off, the two starlets promoting it genuinely looked like they were having the time of their lives. It’s fun to be Dongfeng! Now that’s a surprise.

Haima S5Chinese Popstar Wu Mochou talking the Haima S5 up

#4 Haima

Haima does old-fashioned Mazdas no more. The Chinese carmaker has grown up and is decidedly having fun doing it. By far the most enthusiastic Chinese brand at the Show, Haima unveiled its S5 SUV with a live performance from local popstar Wu Mochou. No boring Haima official ever came on stage, instead the unveiling was MC’ed by a young hipstery presenter that gave the brand a serious image refresh. When it becomes interesting is that the video clip played alongside Wu Mochou’s performance featured her driving the car and interacting with it the entire time. Those of you who work in advertising know how hard it is to achieve this without looking too contrived. In my opinion and in a Chinese context Haima did a great job.

Haima M5Haima M5

Also, the singer didn’t leave the stage after the song was over but joined the presenter to talk the car up. Perhaps a little cheesy by Western standards but it worked very well here, giving the show a welcome casual ambiance. China’s ban on Youtube prevents me from publishing the video now but I will do so as soon as I return to Australia. The other reason why Haima ranks so high here is that according to Chinese car expert Tycho de Feijter from Carnewschina.com, Haima’s image in China so far has been bland at the best of times. So they were way out of their comfort zone with the S5 launch and pulled it off. I have never agreed with Haima designs and the Show confirmed this, but huge kudos to the brand for this launch mise-en-scène.

GAC Trumpchi GA6 ConceptGimme gimme, gimme a GAC Trumpchi GA6.

#3 GAC Trumpchi

While GAC Gonow was one of the worst Chinese offenders (ranking #28), sister company GAC Trumpchi triumphed. First massive surprise: GAC Trumpchi is involved in a very official tie-up with the upcoming Transformers movie, making it the first Chinese carmakers to step inside a Hollywood movie, ever. Lots of Transformers references on the stand and Transformers robot characters wandering around already make GAC Trumpchi earn their high ranking. But they went further by presenting some kick-arse looking cars. The All-new GA3S would have been a better Infiniti Q50 and the GA6 Concept is what a truly exciting Toyota Camry should look like.

Hongqi L5Retro-cool: Hongqi L5

#2 Hongqi

Chinese car luxury exists and it’s called Hongqi (Red flag). Thanks FAW for making it completely separate from your other brands, for giving it its own logo and its own very sophisticated red, black and wood stand. I loved the red ‘diamond’ on all bonnets, I loved the powerful interior and the serene confidence that exudes from your stand.

Hongqi H7 interior with future buyerDreaming of a Hongqi

I love that Chinese kids can dream over a Chinese brand. The H7 design still looks a little American 90s, so wouldn’t it be great if you had a truly cool car. And now you have. The L5 unveiled at the Show is a retro-cool reinvention of the original Hongqi model launched in 1958 in the same way Mini did. Now to convince these Chinese businessmen to choose you over Audi. After all, with a $50.000 starting price for the H7, it’s a full normal Chinese car ($10,000) less than an equivalent A6L. The L5, rumoured to start at $800.000, is another story…

Hongqi H7 bonnetHongqi H7 bonnet

If you have been reading this ranking very closely you will have guessed the #1 already… Unveiling coming soon…

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Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #10 to #6

Venucia e30Who would have thought Venucia could glam up the Nissan Leaf?

We are now getting serious and entering the Top 10 most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show. This is Part 7 of my Beijing Auto Show coverage, check out also Part 1- First impressionsPart 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 and Part 3 – #25 to #21Part 4 – #20 to #16, Part 5 – #15 to #11 and Part 6: A Voyage through Beijing hutongs.

#10 Venucia

Similarly to Baojun, Venucia is a low-cost brand only available in China. It was created by the Dongfeng-Nissan joint-venture and to this day only consisted of a regurgitated version of the previous generation Tiida, called D50 (sedan) and R50 (hatch). In spite of this Venucia sales have been progressing regularly, to break the 10,000 monthly unit-mark 5 times so far and peaking at 13,731 last December. So I was intrigued. And I was right to be. Miles away from Baojun’s bland stand, Venucia stood out from all other Chinese carmakers with a youthful and very colourful vibe, topped up by very glamorous starlets. “New” models were up en masse too: the all-new D30 (based on the Nissan March), the e30 plug-in (based on the Nissan Leaf) and the Viwa concept finished to convince me that Venucia is here to stay. Only negative: impossible to step inside any of the cars, which is always a bad sign.

JAC S3Now look at the car.

#9 JAC

Better known for its trucks, JAC definitely amped the sexiness at the Beijing Auto Show, turning around the rather bland image I had of them. Impressively, JAC presented 3 concepts including the spectacular CV-9 SUV and 3 production-ready all-new models: it took risks by unveiling the all-new Refine S3 SUV in a bright orange robe, adorned with a very sultry starlet in sizzling black and pink outfit. Who would have thought JAC could be capable of such glamour?

JAC iEV5Surprisingly both cool and production-ready: the JAC iEV5

And the glamour wasn’t just skin-deep: the iEV5 plug-in sported a very fun grille and the coolest interior of any Chinese car at the show! (click on Read more at the end of the article to see it) Unfortunately it’s JAC’s last new entrant that prevents the brand from ranking higher in my ‘most impressive’ list: the Heyue A20, the ‘normal’ version of the iEV5, disappointed with VERY shiny interior plastics. And sadly JAC still thinks it’s ok to blatantly copy Western cars: the Refine A6 Concept looks like a rushed Audi A4.

ChangAn Eado XT Pink frontNow that’s a bit daring from ChangAn…

#8 ChangAn

LCV specialist (with the Chana brand) recently converted to making more than Mazda copies, ChangAn stepped up to the game at the Show. It delivered a mix of very honest models and quirky one-offs like a Boss. No one else dared show one of their newest models in bright pink. ChangAn did with the exciting Eado XT. Lots of bonus points as well for showing a (Very) Grand Raeton extravangant limousine. All this topped off by an impressive CS75 SUV complete with top notch interior made ChangAn one of the most improved Chinese carmakers at the Show.

Zotye T600 interiorImpeccable: Zotye T600 interior

#7 Zotye

If I had to vote with my heart Zotye would be Number 1 in this ranking. I already had followed with interest the blooming of this brand that used to simply sell a rebadged previous gen Daihatsu Terios, so I knew what they were capable of which means they didn’t “impress” me that much if that makes sense. Zotye continues to grow with a very good Z500 unveiled at the show and, I will say it, the T600 SUV delivering one of the Top 3 most sophisticated interiors of all Chinese carmakers present in my view. Yep, no less.

Zotye fun Beijing 2014bWhat car shows should be about: pure fun.

I was preparing for the worst when the super friendly staff opened the T200 (facelifted Terios) for me but it wasn’t that bad. One starlet interacting with a kid taking her picture remains my favourite ‘moment’ of the show, and the salesman so excited at me publishing photos of their cars on my blog made this brand extremely likeable. Little Zotye will become big.

BAIC BJ100 ConceptOutrageously and deliriously pleasurable: BAIC BJ100 Concept

#6 BAIC

My understanding of BAIC was limited to the very successful E-Series and a Nicolas Cage-endorsed sporty Senova D70. Plus a few Jeeps. So you can imagine my surprise when faced with dozens of models, 2 striking concept cars, 3 production-ready all-new models and a special series looking very sporty indeed. You can’t miss the Senova D60 Aero when approaching the BAIC stand: its aggressive front makes you do a double take as it kind of looks like a Mercedes CLA. Not what I expected from a State-owned Chinese carmaker indeed. But wait there’s much more.

BAIC Concept 900Sharp: BAIC Concept 900

To me the Concept 900 is simply the best looking Chinese concept car of the Show, actually its grille is thanks to a great expansion on the brand’s logo. And the outrageous BJ100 Concept, love it or hate it, does stop you in your tracks. Add to this the new Senova D50, Senova D60 and BJ80 Jeep and you have one of the most dynamic Chinese carmakers at the Show. Negatives: the E-Series disappointingly very beige inside (both literally and not) and the BJ80 Jeep looking like a Mercedes G-Class on a very bad hallucinogenic trip and closed even to the press, probably to spare them an interior equally questionable.

The Top 5 most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show will be published shortly.

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Photo Report: A voyage through Beijing hutongs

1 Chana Star 2 DongsiChana Star in Dongsi hutong

The legendary Beijing hutongs are tiny, charming alleyways formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. An endangered species, the real Beijing lives and breathes in hutongs where a warm sense of community and hospitality survives. I was lucky enough to spend some time visiting hutongs during my short stay in Beijing, so here are some snaps for you. As you will see, the tiny streets have not discouraged hutong inhabitants from bringing their Cadillac SUV at their doorstep…

2 VW Santana Taxi Qudeng HutongVW Santana taxi in Qudeng hutong

2 Great Wall M4 VW JettaGreat Wall M4 and VW Jetta in Dongsi hutong

3 Cadillac SRXCadillac SRX in Dongsi hutong

4 Chana StarChana Star and a wall of bricks

5 Jinbei Haise Kia K2Jinbei Haise and Kia K2 in Dongsi hutong

6 Nissan SunnyNissan Sunny in Dongsi hutong

7 Hyundai VelosterHyundai Veloster in Dongsi hutong

8 Hafei MinivanHafei minivan in Dongsi hutong

10 Wuling Hongguang DashilanWuling Hongguang in Dashilan hutong

10 Chana logoNew Chana logo (on Taurus only)

The Photo Report continues below with 10 additional pictures.

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Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #15 to #11

Maxxus G10 Beijing 2014Maxxus G10. There. Now you know a new Chinese brand.

I am getting more and more impressed as we go up my list of the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show, now from #15 to #11. This is Part 5 of my Beijing Auto Show coverage, check out also Part 1- First impressionsPart 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 and Part 3 – #25 to #21 and Part 4 – #20 to #16.

#15 Maxxus

You would be forgiven for never having heard of the Maxxus brand. My only encounter with it was two random trucks passed on my way to Bourke in my recent Australian Outback trip – I didn’t even know they exported to Australia! Maxxus specialises in light commercial vehicles and this is where they earn they first bonus points: the entire Beijing Auto Show is dedicated to Passenger Cars, with LCVs relegated in the cold outside. Except for Maxxus which not only had the balls to play with the big boys but also launched the all-new and very alluring G10 complete with very alluring starlets indeed.

BYD Tang Hybrid ConceptBYD Tang Hybrid Concept

#14 BYD

BYD once topped the China Passenger Car sales charts with the F3 and promised to ‘Build your Dreams’ by becoming the world’s #1 electric car battery maker with Warren Buffet as a shareholder. They have revised their pretensions since but  had fallen into some kind of oblivion. Well BYD is back and kicking at the Beijing Auto Show, rekindling with its eco-friendly roots as a very eco-friendly stand – down to the showcars being either white or blue. However one mean BYD Tang hybrid SUV Concept turns out to be a mere kick arse version of the all-new S7, itself a bigger S6. And the new G5 looks like the G6.

FAW Xiali N7 interiorMuch better than you’d expect for a $7,300 car? I agree.

FAW Xiali T012FAW Xiali T012

#13 FAW

Frankly on the lower end of the price scale (except perhaps for its Besturn sub-brand) and not in great shape commercially: I wan’t expecting wonders from First Automotive Works at the Show. And I was pleasantly proven wrong. FAW shows refreshed designs that looked anything but drab, takes risks with the all-new Xiali T012 looking decidedly different, makes me go aaah! by putting the same FAW logo on all its models meaning the Xiali and Besturn sub-brands are actually sub-brands, a rare stance in China. But I kept the best for last: the $7,300 Xiali N7 wowed me with its very neat interiors definitely miles away from what you would expect from such a cheap car.

Baojun 730Baojun 730

Baojun 730 interiorNot so low cost-looking after all: Baojun 730 interior

#12 Baojun

Baojun is the low-cost brand launched by the SAIC-GM joint-venture two years ago with the 630 sedan. It took a while, but we now have two additional models, both presented at the Beijing Auto Show. On the plus side, perhaps even more so than for the FAW Xiali N7 above, I was very pleasantly surprised by the 730 interior: lovely design, very complete without feeling too complicated, robust enough and very far away from a low-cost interior indeed. On the not so great side: the 610 hatchback took two years to simply offer a 630 cut short with an uninteresting back.

Wuling Hongguang SWuling Hongguang interior. Yep, a Chinese LCV.

#11 Wuling

Wuling is a Light Commercial Vehicle brand, except for the country’s best-seller overall, the Hongguang, at the border between MPV and LCV. On a good day, 3000 Hongguang find a new home in China. Yes you have read that right. Twice as many as VW Golf in the whole of Europe. And stepping inside for the first time at the Show, I understood why. This is the third brand in a row that changed my mind based solely on the quality of their interior, and although Wuling only showed one car, the new Hongguang S, it nailed it. I will say it: the Hongguang is one of the Top 5 best Chinese interiors at the moment. No less. Not bad for an LCV.

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Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #20 to #16

MG5 Beijing 2014MG5

Getting better and better in my ranking of the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show. This is Part 4 of my Beijing Auto Show 2014 coverage, check out also Part 1- First impressionsPart 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 and Part 3 – Most impressive #25 to #21.

#20 MG

MG, now short for Morris Garages and the property of SAIC, is one of a few Chinese brands that exudes a genuine air of coolness. Staff clothing color scheme gives a touch of British without being too obvious, car designs are among the best in China, especially the new MG5, and the sporty versions exposed actually are sexy. So what went wrong? The interior damages all this exciting coolness with shiny plastic giving off a frank air of… low cost.

Roewe 550 interiorEverything at the right place in the Roewe 550

#19 Roewe

MG’s more up-market sister brand is exactly that: more conventional but classy design, good ‘clunk’ sound at door close and good quality, intuitive if a little unimaginative interior. One of the most sophisticated Chinese brand experiences I had at the Show.

Soueast R7 Concept Beijing 2014Soueast R7 Concept

#18 Soueast

Before stepping in the Beijing Auto Show my idea of Soueast was a brand that kept relaunching ever more grossly made-up versions of the previous generation Mitsubishi Lancer. Soueast’s presence at the show was far from that, with one new model (the V6 Ling Shi Cross) and a not unpleasant SUV concept (the R7). Nothing groundbreaking here, but a dynamic stand and far better designs than expected earn Soueast my cheers.

Geely Emgrand EC7 hatchThis EC7 hatch sports back-from-the-dead Emgrand’s new logo.

#17 Geely

Geely announced earlier this year that it would kill its 3 sub-brands (Emgrand, Shanghai Englon and Gleagle) and rightfully name all models Geely. What better platform to make this change than the Beijing Auto Show? Oh but wait Geely changed their mind, and now wants to keep the Emgrand sub-brand, even debuting a new black and blue logo at the Show. Plus the Shanghai Englon logo was still on some models. Confusing.

Geely Emgrand Cross ConceptGeely Emgrand Cross Concept

I was expecting to be wowed at the Emgrand EC7 given its outstanding sales figures, and yes the interior is pleasant with a few clever ideas (the only Chinese model in the show to sport HDMI and USB cable plugs) but the materials feel flimsy and the dials wobbly. However one concept saves Geely from ranking far below in my ‘most impressive’ list: the Emgrand Cross PHEV hatchback, with a very pleasing look and super impressive interior. It even looks like it could go on sale tomorrow and compete with the Qoros 3. Me: impressed.

Jinbei Granse Beijing 2014New generation Jinbei Granse

#16 Jinbei

Jinbei is owned by Brilliance and makes boring licensed copies of the Toyota Pro- and Hiace. Right? Wrong. Here comes the huge new generation Granse MPV, impressive from all angles. Very friendly staff writes down all the info I asked, and Jinbei becomes one Chinese brand that changed my mind at the Show.

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Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #25 to #21

Golden LianhuaFighting for a golden Lianhua

We continue on my ranking of the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show, now going from disappointing to neutral to ok with the ranks #25 to #21. This is Part 3 of my Beijing Auto Show 2014 coverage, you can see Part 1- First impressions here and Part 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 here.

#25 Qoros/Foton

Having presented the Qoros 3 hatchback in Geneva nearly two months ago, Qoros had nothing new in Beijing, which is kind of an issue when they only sold a few hundred units here since the start of the year and their main market is still supposed to be China and by far. Yes the interior is top notch, yes everything is looking all (too) serious and German clean, but I didn’t feel any excitement or urgency for that matter, given the low sales and rumoured humongous marketing budget already spent to establish the brand. Not sure where Qoros is going but it is getting there slowly. Same story for Foton, I was very impressed with tough-looking versions of the Tunland pick-up at the Manila Auto Show one year ago and I saw the same ones here. These two brands are on standby as far as I am concerned.

Brilliance H230 EV Beijing 2014The Brilliance H230 EV was just about the only funky thing on the Brilliance stand.

#24 Brilliance

We are now getting into (slight) positive territory with Brilliance, which has been trying to use its joint-venture with BMW to position itself as affordable premium in the Chinese market, with prices ranging from RMB55,800 to 130,800. Unfortunately there wasn’t much brilliance on the Brilliance stand apart from a H230 EV satisfyingly funky inside and out and a lazily facelifted V5. Can do better, hopefully.

Lianhua L6 Sportback Beijing 2014Lianhua L6 Sportback

#23 Lianhua

Nothing beats the feeling of a stand deserted by its staff. Not. There wasn’t much love at Lianhua, however sharply designed cars, ergonomic, solid if unimaginative interiors, a rather robust sound when closing doors and a fun car painted in gold more than made up for it.

JMC S350 Beijing 2014JMC S350

#22 JMC

Even less-known outside of China than most Chinese carmakers, JMC gave off a reassuringly world-class feeling in its stand strategically located next to Ford’s drab Transit display. In comparison, the JMC S350 looked premium, without superfluous design elements and ready for any task, achieving the feat of making the entire JMC range look better with the help of a giant screen praising its off-road capacities with convincing desert shots. Well done.

Lifan 820 Beijing 2014Lifan 820

#21 Lifan

Lots of models on a small stand for Lifan, all with very different degrees of quality: from the new flagship 820 sedan to the richly equipped 720, the trendy X50 mini SUV and the disappointingly rustic 530 sedan. Lifan earns bonus points for bringing soccer superstar Luis Figo all the way from Portugal, even though he himself didn’t seem to know exactly why he was here. A big success with the Chinese press however.

The next batch (#20 to #16) will be published shortly.

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Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26

Hawtai Shengdafei Beijing 2014Deceivingly good-looking: the Hawtai Shengdafei

This is Part 2 of my Beijing Auto Show 2014 coverage, you can see Part 1- First impressions here

In order to report to you with as much precision as possible my experience at the Beijing Auto Show I will rank all 30-odd Chinese carmakers exhibiting at the Show based on how impressed I was with them. So a totally subjective ranking taking into account novelties, concept cars, design, interior cockpit and the general vibe on the stand. The only missing link for now is how these cars drive. Keep in mind this was my first time stepping in most of these cars so you are getting my very first outtakes. We’ll be going up the ladder from last to first in pure hit parade tradition.

#30 Hawtai

I estimated the Hawtai Lusheng E70 to be the best-selling car in North Korea in 2013 thanks to a batch of taxis delivered to Pyongyang. Well to me Hawtai also holds the title of most deceptive Chinese brand at the Show. Design is actually becoming pretty good, with the all-new Shengdafei arguably one of the better looking Chinese SUVs, and the brochures are top notch. Everything comes crashing down when you step inside any Hawtai car: it literally feels like you could break anything just by holding it. I haven’t been in such fragile cars in decades and seen interiors so at odds with exteriors, ever. I guess the E70 price tag ($11,100) should have alerted me. On a positive note, with up-to-scratch interiors Hawtai could climb inside my Top 20.

Leopard Q6 Beijing 2014Leopaard Q6 – a 1982 Mitsubishi Pajero in disguise

#29 Leopaard

Yes this still happens: I find myself on the stand of a brand I had never heard of before. So you’d think I’d have a pretty open mind. Well. Old Mitsubishi Pajeros used to be sold by Changfeng under the Liebao brand, they continue under the Leopaard name (yes, two a’s). And they shouldn’t. The interior is a throwback to the eighties complete with faded grey plastics and wobbly gearbox. And it’s not a mean-looking CT5 pick-up and an ok if very common CS10 SUV concept that will change my mind. The good news (?) is that Leopaard mainly sells to police, military and other Chinese government agencies, not so much to the masses.

GAC Gonow Beijing 2014China circa 1984. Oh wait…

#28 GAC Gonow

In stark contrast with most Chinese carmakers and most surprisingly at opposite ends with its GAC counterpart Trumpchi, the GAC Gonow presentation of a very unspectacular looking minivan was reminiscent of a China we all thought lost in the past. Static powerpoint screen, gauche presenter reading her notes and overly disciplined audience made it feel like we were in 1984 all over again. Except we aren’t. Chinese journalists seemed to enjoy the nostalgia and punctuated the excruciatingly long speech with cheers. I wasn’t impressed.

Denza EV Beijing 2014Exactly.

#27 Denza

You got a feel for it yesterday when I published the first picture of the Denza EV on BSCB. Launched with big fanfare and lots of German people amongst the Chinese, it’s because of such high expectations that the Denza brand features so low in my ranking. Most Chinese carmakers let (a little) loose on their hybrid or EV offering this year at the Show, joujing up both inside and out what would otherwise be relatively ordinary cars. That was too hard for Denza: plain design, unimpressive and unergonomic interior, butt-ugly butt. Wasn’t a joint-venture with Daimler supposed to offer a touch of class? Take 2 please.

Chery Tiggo 3 Beijing 2014Facelifted – not buttlifted – Chery Tiggo 3

#26 Chery

The Chery Tiggo used to be the Chinese SUV king but it has taken a hard beating lately, notably from Haval. I’m not sure the facelifted Tiggo 3 presented at the show will reverse the trend. At first glance it looks exactly like a Tiggo 5 and the back of the car hasn’t had a significant update since its original launch almost 10 years ago as you can see on the picture above. It’s going to take a lot more than this to catch up with Haval. Plus the two concept cars unveiled (Alpha and Beta – oh the creativity) could have been in any Car Show from the past decade or two. Come on Chery, where is the new QQ, where is your renaissance?

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Auto China – Beijing 2014: First impressions

Zotye fun Beijing 2014bRemember when Auto Shows were fun and carmakers didn’t take themselves too seriously?

Today was the Press Day of Auto China 2014 in Beijing, the biggest annual Chinese Auto Show alternatively hosted in Shanghai and Beijing. My first striking impression is that even though China is now by far the biggest car market in the world and on target to equal the US and Europe put together by 2030, this is still mainly an Auto Show by Chinese carmakers for Chinese journalists. Non-Chinese colleagues are a small minority for the most part confined to Western brands stands, and it is very difficult to find staff at any carmaker stand (Chinese or otherwise) that speaks English, making the ‘Press’ in Press Day pretty much a one way street: taking pictures without asking much.

Dongfeng love Beijing 2014Dongfeng Love

If you are a regular BSCB reader you will know my particular interest for Chinese brands and their fast evolution at home, so I was literally like a kid in a candy store all day. I will cover each Chinese brand exhibited at the Beijing Auto 2014 in much more detail shortly. Let’s just say that their enthusiasm, abundance of new models and (for some) fun launch mise-en-scènes reminded me of a lost time (at least in Europe and the States) when carmakers were all about celebration without taking themselves too seriously. And you will see the fun Chinese carmakers are not the ones you’d expect – actually I’m not sure I actually expected any of them to be fun at all.

JAC glamour Beijing 2014JAC Glamour (I never thought I’d write these two words in the same sentence)

To me today the Chinese manufacturer that seemed to have the most fun at the Show was small carmaker Zotye. From models interacting with the audience in a natural way (see the first picture of this report) to salesmen greeting you with a genuine smiley face (and voice), actually interested in knowing what you think of the cars, opening the ones that were supposed to be closed “just for you” and wowed when learning I would publish some pictures of their cars on my blog, this was a very refreshing stand indeed.

BAIC Senova D60 AeroBAIC Senova D60 Aero

Dont mess with my Dongfeng Beijing 2014Don’t mess with my Dongfeng

Dongfeng was not far behind, with models either playfully glamourous or self-depreciatingly serious (see above), JAC compensated their so-so cars with overly sultry models, Venucia was way more youthfully slick than I was expecting and GAC surprised me with their huge stand, aggressive cars and very official Transformers endorsement complete with Michael Bay videos and actual Transformers characters strolling the alleys of the Show.

Matt BumblebeeGood old me with Bumblebee

Haval Dakar Rally RacecarGreat Wall SUV brand Haval had an impressive display at the Show.

Haima unveiled its all-new S5 SUV with a live show from local popstar and The Voice of China runner-up Wu Mochou featuring a video clip of her song perfectly integrating the car (I will publish the video shortly), while Great Wall chose to not exhibit any passenger cars and instead produced an enormous stand for its SUV brand Haval, with lots of surprises in it.

Beyonce Toyota Beijing 2014Beyonce endorses Toyota in China (and Japan).

In the Western world car celebrity endorsements are almost a thing of the past. Not so in China. Beyonce was everywhere you set your eyes on through enormous billboards of her Toyota Yaris L and Vios endorsement, Peugeot made sure you knew they signed tennis player Novak Djokovic and Lifan had Portuguese superstar soccer player Luis Figo on their stand which triggered a mini-riot among the Chinese press!

Honqi H7 detail Beijing 2014Hongqi H7 grille detail

Luxury FAW brand Hongqi lived up to its reputation with a very sophisticated stand, a PHEV version of its H7 flagship and a new L5 “revival” treated with the reverence you normally see on a Lamborghini stand.

Toyota Levin Beijing 2014Toyota Levin

If journalists may not have caught up with the fact that China is the present and future of the car industry, worldwide manufacturers have, thank you very much. The Lincoln MKX Concept is the first ever Lincoln revealed outside the US, Chevrolet unveiled a new Cruze which, granted, looks like a Ford Focus from the front but is way better than the grossly made-up US Cruze revealed in New York earlier this week, and while still selling both the 9th and 10th generation Corolla in China, Toyota launched its 11th iteration along with the Levin, looking suspiciously similar to the US Corolla. 4 Corolla variants in one country yes, but only in China.

Denza EV Beijing 2014Denza EV – Why do most EV cars have to look fugly?

There were a few disappointments too. BYD-Daimler unveiled the first model of their new EV brand Denza, and in my view it just confirmed that EV cars will have to be forced down consumers’ throat and wallet if all manufacturers continue to make them so ugly (Tesla is the exception here).

DS 6WR Beijing 2014The DS 6WR is just an SUV version of the DS 5LS (pictured behind). Oh I miss the Wild Rubis!

The much awaited all-new and only-for-China DS 6WR SUV, supposedly inspired by the mouth-watering Wild Rubis concept, turned out to be a mere 4WDish variant of the relatively featureless DS 5LS sedan. Its 4 cylinder engine and common looks made one French colleague of mine compare the 6WR to – shock, horror – the Dacia Duster… I won’t go that far. Let’s hope the Chinese will succumb to its charms nevertheless.

Mitsubishi embarrassment Beijing 2014 v2Someone please give Mitsubishi a designer. Now!

Finally, not that it was really a surprise, Mitsubishi presented a dumbfounding PHEV ‘concept’ that made even the model posing next to it embarrassed…

Stay tuned for the complete coverage of the Beijing Auto Show 2014!

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