As is the tradition on BSCB, after exploring the April Chinese ranking, we then go into the detail of the all-new models landing into the largest new vehicle market in the world. As always this only concerns the models that have kick-started local production as imports data is still very patchy for China. After welcoming 6 new entrants in March, once again we have 6 new nameplates in the charts in April, a handful of them we just discovered at Auto Shanghai 2015. And once again the listing of new entrants in the market illustrates the longer term trends currently at play in China: local manufacturers back to their former dynamism and of course… the SUV craze. 5 out of the 6 new April entrants are manufactured by Chinese carmakers, and 3 out of 6 are SUVs. I give you the list of new entrants for now, complete analysis will follow shortly.
1. Geely GC9 (#226 with 1.033 sales)
Geely is finally showing us the benefits of having purchased Swedish car manufacturer Volvo a few years back with this GC9 designed by Volvo’s head of design, and it shows. The GC9 is Geely’s new flagship, unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2015 and an extremely impressive quality leap forward for the Chinese brand. Astounding interior coupled with stylish exterior including a very unique grille make the GC9 a serious contender for the title of best Chinese car ever produced so far. At 4.96m long and powered by a choice of 1.8L turbo diesel, 2.4L or 3.5L petrol engines mated with a 6AT gearbox, the GC9 is on sale at the ridiculously low starting price of 119.800 yuan (US$19.300).
The range extends to a 3.5L “Flagship” tim priced at a still dirt cheap 229.800 yuan (US$37.100). We have found the new Hyundai and its name is Geely. Given this is completely unchartered territory for the brand, a sales prediction is proving rather difficult. The Volvo S60L on which the GC9 is loosely based points at a shy #175 so far in 2015, not much further up the ladder than the GC9’s very first month. Larger Chinese sedans have traditionally struggled, so much so that Brilliance all but stopped producing any for example, focusing instead on smaller sedans and SUVs. So in absolute terms, a Top 100 ranking would validate Geely in its upmarket pretentious.
Bar for success: #120 or 5.000 monthly sales
2. Haima M6 (#238 with 905 units)
The Haima M6 wasn’t unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2015 but… 2013! Fast-foward two long years and it finally lands in the Chinese sales charts, albeit for now at a very discreet #238 for its first month in market. Powered by a 1.5L turbo petrol engine mated with a 6 speed-manual or CVT, the Haima M6 is priced from 76.800 to 102.800 yuan (US$ 12.400-16.600), slotting it in one of the most hotly contested segments in China. Weirdly, the M6 doesn’t really distinguish itself from the M5 aka All-new Family, the brand’s best-seller until last year when it ranked at #104. It is almost exactly the same size at 4.70m vs. 4.69 for the M5 and is priced almost identically with the M5 ranging from 76.800 to 98.800 yuan. Needless to say the M6 is going to struggle making its mark both within Haima’s range and on the market overall.
What can the M6 aim for? Unless we witness a complete sales replacement of the M5 (still a possible option) in which case a monthly Top 100 ranking is viable, my prediction is this outdated design isn’t going to make much waves. If we look up within Haima’s range, the flagship M8 only sold 50 units in April whereas if we look down the M3 ranked #118 in FY2014 but is down 42% year-on-year in April to #186. So far this year, the Haima S5 SUV is the brand’s best-seller at home, selling 4.014 units in April (#124) ranking just outside the Top 100 after 4 months. Haima should aggressively focus on launching a string affordable SUVs rather than pointlessly duplicating its sedan range.
Bar for success: #150 or 2.500 monthly sales
3. Leopaard CS10 (#270 with 453 deliveries)
Leopaard was one of my biggest surprises at Auto Shanghai 2015, going from grossly made-up Mitsubishi Pajeros a year ago in Beijing to the very professional, fun and confident unveiling of the CS10 SUV at the Show. Confirming it is now a force to reckon with, Leopaard lands the CS10 inside the Chinese sales charts the same month it unveiled it – contrast this with the Haima M6 being two years late above… At a low #270 for now, the CS10 should climb further up shortly. But just how much further? At 4.66m long this is a compact SUV powered by a Mitsubishi 2.0L turbo engine competitively priced from 96.800 to 125.800 yuan (US$ 15.600-20.300).
Leopaard CS10 (back)
When climbing inside in Shanghai I had nothing bad to say about its interior quality, the dashboard is stylish and complete and the exterior design is among the best for a Chinese SUV, especially the back looking rather aggressive. What will limit CS10 sales is the small dealership network of the Leopaard brand. To benchmark its sales performance we have to look at other nameplates from Chengfeng (the overarching brand sitting on top of Leopaard). The Kingbox DUV ended 2014 at #194 but ranks #253 so far this year, the original Leopaard (a facelifted Mitsubishi Pajero) sold just 110 units in 2015 and both the CS6 and CS7 have quietly stepped out of the ranking altogether. Not a great pedigree, which means the CS10 almost instantly became Changfeng’s best-seller at home. This is a giant step forward for the GAC-owned brand, so it should aim equally high. A Top 150 ranking in the coming months will be dynamic start, while cracking the Top 100 will put Leopaard on the map.
Bar for success: #150 or 3.000 monthly sales
Mercedes GLA SUV
4. Mercedes GLA (#278 with 365 sales)
Among the Top 3 Germans, Mercedes is the fastest-growing luxury brand in China, quickly bridging the gap it had let expand over the past decade on Audi and BMW. A capital piece to this sales race puzzle is the GLA SUV which kick started local production in Beijing on April 8, exactly two years after enjoying its world premiere at Auto Shanghai 2013. The GLA hits right into a very soft spot in the Chinese market: compact SUVs are currently being snapped up like cheap dumplings and East Coast consumers are craving the status that comes with owning a European car, let alone a Mercedes. The GLA ticks absolutely all boxes in the current Chinese environment, and its sales should take off to levels unheard of before for a Mercedes SUV, despite its steep 220k-450k yuan price range (US$ 35.500-72.500).
Up until now, the only locally-produced SUV in the Mercedes range was the GLK, oblivious to the GLA launch and up a fantastic 51% year-on-year in April to #91 and 5.513 sales while ranking just inside the Top 100 so far in this year at #95 and 22.000 deliveries. The two most relevant benchmarks to the GLA are its direct competitors the Audi Q3 – #98 with 21.642 sales – and BMW X1 – #137 at 13.542 units. Even though Audi sells more Q5 (35.675) than Q3 and BMW doesn’t produce either the X3 or the X5 locally so these are poor sellers, it is fair to assume the GLA will be more successful than the GLK in China, the same way it outsells it in Europe, one reason being the A-Class on which it’s based isn’t produced locally and therefore ends up being more expensive. The choice for cashed-up city youth then becomes very easy to make.
Bar for success: #100 or 6.000 monthly sales
5. Haval H8 (#287 with 252 units)
Originally launched in November 2013 but cancelled in January 2014 when bashed by the local automotive press for gross shortcomings, Great Wall’s SUV brand Haval has swallowed its pride, went back to the drawing board, made the required improvements and relaunched the H8 this month. This delayed launch may have hurt the model’s sales potential – some local media say it actually shows maturity and a willingness to take responsibility – but if in 2013 the H8 was a critical addition and the flagship to the Haval range, in the space of 18 months a lot has changed for Haval, enjoying absolutely euphoric sales gains, correlated to a lineup widening at lightning speed.
Relieving some of the pressure on the success of this model, the H8 does not top Haval’s range anymore, this honour now goes to the H9 launched last November, priced at 229.800-272.800 yuan ($37.200-44.100) vs. the H8 at 201.800-256.800 yuan (US$ 32.500-41.400). This isn’t cheap by Chinese standards but still a bargain compared to the Mercedes GLA for example (above). Havel now sells the H1 (#74 in April), H2 (#22), H5 (#159), H6 (#2 overall), H8 and H9 (#230) and has just unveiled both the H6 Coupe and H7 at Auto Shanghai 2015. Sales-wise, the H8 should find a spot above both the ageing H5 and the flagship H9 to claim success.
Bar for success: #110 or 4.500 monthly sales
6. Huasong 7 (#334 with 60 deliveries)
As detailed in my review of the most impressive Chinese carmakers at Auto Shanghai 2015, Huasong is a new brand launched by Brilliance, offering upmarket MPVs based on Jinbei technology. A quick flick through Chinese media makes it pretty clear that Brilliance is aiming for the Buick GL8 with this first nameplate, the Huasong 7. At 5.00m long, the 7 is priced between 237.700 and 287.700 yuan (US$ 38.300-46.400), a steep ask for a Chinese nameplate and for an interior that isn’t actually that impressive. Second handicap: the Huasong 7 is sandwiched price-wise between the – outdated but still somewhat prestigious previous generation – Buick GL8 Classic (209.000-248.000) and the current GL8 (299.900-399.900). Brilliance is taking a risk with the Huasong 7, but its attractive exterior design may help. One one hand, the targeted GL8 is flying high at #69 overall in April and #79 in 2015 (26.700 sales), on the other hand the cheaper Jinbei Granse on which the Huasong 7 is based didn’t cracked the Top 200 in 2014 (#205) nor has it so far in 2015 (#226 with 4.316 units).
Bar for success: #200 or 2.000 monthly sales
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