Beijing Auto Show 2016: Our interview with Laurens van den Acker

Laurens Van Den Acker BSCBBSCB interviewed Laurens van den Acker at the Beijing Auto Show last April.

At the Beijing Auto Show 2016, I had the privilege of interviewing Laurens van den Acker, Senior Vice President of Renault Corporate Design since 2009. Laurens is responsible for all the latest Renault designs, including the Kwid, Twingo, Clio, Captur, Megane, Scenic, Kadjar, Espace, Talisman, and most recently the all-new Koleos revealed in Beijing.

It is a very significant and exciting time for Renault in China, as the French carmaker has just become a local manufacturer with the launch of the China-made Kadjar in March (6.264 deliveries in 3 months). The perfect time to catch up with Laurens and ask him about his perspectives on the Chinese, Indian and other global markets. You will find below a transcript of the interview, originally conducted in French, and as it was the case last year with Dacia, I become the interviewee towards the end…

Laurens van den Acker. Picture courtesy caradisiac.comLaurens van den Acker 

Many thanks to Alexandra Legendre, Deputy Editor at L’Automobile Magazine, for making this interview happen. The following abbreviations have been used: LVDA = Laurens van den Acker, AM = L’Automobile Magazine, BSCB = BestSellingCarsBlog.

AM: You have now redesigned  the entire Renault range…

LVDA: With the Alaskan pickup coming up later in 2016, it is true than in just 6 years we have been able to redesign the entire Renault lineup. I was tasked with making beautiful cars with a recognisable identity and a sensual Latin, French style that differentiates itself from Dacia. I believe we are in the process of successfully completing this task indeed. It is very exciting.

Renault Duster Mexico April 2016. Picture courtesy autocosmos.com.mxStill no plans for Renault to launch the Duster in China. 

AM: We were just discussing this with Matt before, wouldn’t it have made sense to launch the Duster in China?

LVDA: One of the reasons we haven’t launched the Duster here is that we built a factory in Wuhan that is based on the CMF platform which isn’t the one the Duster is using. A Duster launch in China is not completely out of the question, but whereas in Europe we have an advantage with the Duster that has no competitors in its price segment, in China we would be competing with all the Chinese brands. It wouldn’t be standing out from the crowd, and we’d have to fend for ourselves against over 50 local brands.

BSCB: The Duster would be sold under the Renault brand in China?

LVDA: If we launch it in China it would be under Renault yes. The Chinese market is extremely interesting: a few years ago, Chinese brands didn’t seem to really exist, with poor quality and a relatively naive brand image, there were still in their development phase. I remember a few years ago you only saw foreign brands in Chinese cities, but it is now tipping the other way around, with Chinese brands now the main engine of growth here.

Renault Koleos 20162016 Renault Koleos

BSCB: Chinese brands now hold 60% of the Chinese SUV market…

LVDA: Exactly, and the Kadjar and Koleos are for us a fresh opportunity to position the Renault marque a little more upmarket in China. It’s not a luxury we have everywhere, we traditionally are positioned lower in the market. In India for example we have a different strategy. If in China the C and D-segments are the core of the market, in India this type of vehicle is not very successful. To exist there you have to be successful in the smaller segments. In this context the Kwid has been…

Renault Kwid India February 2016. Picture courtesy motoroids.comThe Renault Kwid has exceeded Renault’s expectations in India.

BSCB: …a tremendous success?

LVDA: It has been incredible. Our target was 5% market share in India by 2018 thanks to the Kwid and we believe we will hit that level this year already. But we have to continue being fast to market in India because Indian consumers are a little like Korean ones, they love you one minute and they ditch you the next. I give ourselves two years at most until market leader Maruti Suzuki replicates. We know they have already purchased five Kwid: they are dismantling and analysing them in the most minute detail as we speak, and they are a mighty force to be reckoned with thanks to their 2.000 showrooms vs. just 200 for us. The key for India isn’t to make one good car, but two, three or four. You need multiple pillars to rely on because the fashion effect is strong: the Duster was good for us for two years there but it’s slowing down now. The Kwid arrived just at the right time, but if we do nothing for two years, we’ll get back to square one again, so we have to act now.

Landwind X7 China August 2015. Picture courtesy qctt.cnVan den Acker says copycat strategies aren’t viable in the long term, nor internationally.

AM: Back to China: are you noticing the copycat phenomenon by Chinese carmakers fading slightly?

LVDA: To me this is still somewhat of a niche phenomenon, it affects everyone but it won’t prevent us from implanting ourselves in China. We are still so small here that we hope no one will bother copying us! In any case, it’s not a long-term strategy, what kind of company can build themselves on copycats? I know there’s a copy of the Range Rover Evoque here [BSCB: the Landwind X7], is that type of vehicle successful commercially?

BSCB: Very. Landwind sold over 10.000 units for the first time in the brand’s history last March mainly thanks to the X7…

LVDA: Still, I don’t see it as a viable long-term, nor international strategy.

Renault AlaskanRenault Alaskan

BSCB: What’s next for Renault after the Koleos?

LVDA: Our next new nameplate launch is the Alaskan pick-up truck: it will be manufactured in Mexico, Argentina and Spain, but not in China because of the license that was granted to us by the Chinese government which only allows us to manufacture SUVs here at this stage.

AM: Do you regret not coming into China earlier?

LVDA: Of course it’s better to be first in market, but Nissan has managed to get to almost 1 million annual units in China in less than 10 years, so it’s more about how well you use the time you have at your disposal. We will also benefit greatly from Nissan’s experience in the country, that already enabled us to build a factory in less than two years here.

BSCB: What models do you see the Koleos competing with in China?

LVDA: We have tested it and people immediately compared it with the Buick Envision, which I think is a good thing as it is quite successful here?

BSCB: Absolutely. The Envision is averaging roughly 20.000 monthly sales in China.

LVDA: That’s incredible. Any French car that hits that mark in Europe would make us very happy.

Renault Kadjar ChinaChina-made Renault Kadjar

BSCB: The Kadjar started well in the Chinese sales charts. Does it compete with the Nissan Qashqai as it does in Europe?

LVDA: I think style-wise we are different, and I may be wrong but I have the feeling that people in China either buy Japanese or German/European but they don’t mix the two. We don’t see much cross-shopping in Europe for example, I am not 100% sure about the situation in China but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case also.

AM: Will you push the Kadjar’s “Frenchness” in China?

LVDA: It’s interesting you should ask that because in China people want the car to be made for them whereas in India it’s the contrary: if the car is made specifically for them they will assume it will be cheap and of poor quality. So in China we will focus on the fact that the car has been made for Chinese consumers.

BSCB: A typically Chinese habit: will you continue selling the previous generation Koleos alongside with the new one in China?

LVDA: It will be difficult for us to do so because the new locally-produced Koleos will be cheaper than the previous imported one. The biggest hurdle we have to overcome in China is our lack of visibility. We just don’t exist here yet.

Renault Fan Bingbing Chinadaily.com.cnFan BingBing is Renault’s ambassador in China.

BSCB: What is your strategy to raise awareness in China?

LVDA: National advertising makes no sense in China because each slice of the market is of an enormous size so you have to segment the market in a lot more detail to reach your exact target audience. We have an ambassador in China, the actress Fan BingBing (X-Men, Iron Man 3) who is extremely famous here, so she will help us. We will also probably use our success in Formula 1 a lot and it’s one of the reasons we have remained in Formula 1: not necessarily for Europe but for emerging markets such as China and India.

BSCB: Are your Chinese dealerships only concentrated on the Eastern seaboard?

LVDA: No, our 128 dealerships are not just in the in the big cities on the coast, we are also targeting Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

BSCB: That’s important because the Chinese countryside are avid buyers of formats such as the Koleos: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson… And brand loyalty is still very low in China so you may have a good chance in these areas where the market is not as mature as on the coast.

[This is where Laurens becomes the interviewer]

LVDA: So do you guys work together?

AM: We collaborate on L’Automobile Magazine and Matt founded BestSellingCarsBlog…

LVDA: I know this site!

AM: …and he’s mad. You can ask him anything about any cars that sell where and he will know. He’s a human database.

BSCB: You’re too kind (big smile). I try to cover the Chinese market as closely as possible…

LVDA: So what is your advice for us in China Matt?

BSCB: To not make the mistake that many foreign manufacturers have made in the past two years in China, including Volkswagen and PSA Peugeot-Citroen.

LVDA: Which is?

BSCB: Not only have many foreigners failed to anticipate the sudden market shift towards SUV and crossovers,  they have also failed to act on it fast, contrary to Chinese carmakers which are gaining significant market share in the segment. With rare exceptions, the foreign carmakers seeing strong growth in China in 2016 are doing so because of new SUV offers in their lineup: Honda and Hyundai for example, whereas Volkswagen has not released anything in this segment since the previous generation Tiguan. With the Koleos and the Kadjar, your current China-made lineup taps right into this current trend which makes you ideally placed for now, but you’ll need to adapt fast if market conditions change.

LVDA: You were saying PSA Peugeot-Citroen don’t really have an SUV offer in China?

BSCB: They do, but it’s an ageing one and although they were once the only foreign manufacturer in China with Volkswagen, it looks like they don’t know this market despite 25 years of presence. Launching the DS 4S hatchback is a mistake: they should be launching one SUV after the next. The 4S sold 72 units in March in China vs. 2.750 for the Kadjar. That says it all.

LVDA: If I learnt something in China, it’s that hatchbacks are only really favoured in Europe…

BSCB: Correct! Also, Peugeot 2008 and 3008 sales are freefalling and the brand should be launching China-exclusive all-new 4008 and 5008 right now [incomprehensibly, the new 3008 was only revealed after the Beijing Auto Show]. On the flip-side, almost all Chinese carmakers present at the Show are launching at least one all-new SUV today, if not more. I believe I know the Chinese market pretty well, but each time I come to a Show I discover dozens of new Chinese models I didn’t even know were in development. Some local carmakers’s entire stands are filled with new models I had never seen before. SAIC-GM sold 42.000 copies of their Baojun 560 in March, 120.000 in 3 months! The Chinese market is evolving so fast, you really can’t afford to stand still.

LVDA: I better go and check them all out!

China May 2016: Focus on the All-new models

Geely Emgrand GS China May 2016. Picture courtesy weiboribau.netGeely Emgrand GS

* See the May 2016 Top 396 All China-made models and Top 70 brands here *

With the light vehicle market up a very dynamic 11% in May, the constant flow of new models hitting Chinese dealership isn’t about to slow down. Another illustration this month: no less than nine all-new China-made nameplates make their first appearance in the ranking, five of them having just been unveiled at last April’s Beijing Auto Show. As is the tradition each month, BSCB puts a laser focus on these new entries to keep you informed about the largest car market in the world as if you lived there. Characteristically, the six most popular all-new models this month are SUVs, followed by two MPVs and one sedan, and 6 are Chinese vs. 2 foreigners. The message: the Chinese SUV sales surge isn’t about to cool down either.

FAW Jilin Xenia R7 China May 2016. Picture courtesy autohome.com.cn

1. FAW Xenia R7 (#133 – 3.931 sales)

China’s very first automaker – First Automotive Works or FAW – is struggling at home with light vehicle sales down 32% so far in 2016. Only the Besturn B30 sedan has managed to pull decent sales figures, so a small crossover is just what the doctor ordered for the brand, and also an instant hit: the Xenia R7, which impressed me at the Beijing Auto with its interior quality, almost hits the 4.000 sales mark for is first appearance in the charts. This is already almost as much as where another FAW small crossover, the Junpai D60, peaked at: 4.154 units in January 2015. In fact, a stretch sales target should be the larger FAW Besturn X80 with a personal best of 8.199 sales in October 2014 but down to a paltry 1.367 this month. At 4.30m long and priced between 69.800 and 86.900 yuan (US$10.700 – 13.300), the Xenia R7 competes in price with the larger Baojun 560 and the smaller Changan CS35 and may have a hard time finding its place among the plethora of Chinese crossovers already on the market. FAW got us used to sell their cars at some of the lowest prices in the market so this Xenia R7 is a step-up which – albeit justified by an aggressive design, current technology and interior quality – may need a little convincing.

Bar for success: 6.000 monthly sales

Land Rover Discovery Sport China May 2016. Picture courtesy iautodaily.com

2. Land Rover Discovery Sport (#136 – 3.842 sales)

After finally reporting their overall Chinese sales last month, Jaguar Land Rover now gives us locally-produced models monthly sales data. Although launched in late October 2015, we only now get access to Land Rover Discovery Sport figures, and they are excellent. The Discovery Sport manages to attract almost 4.000 monthly buyers a mere 6 months after launch. This compares with 10.708 for the Audi Q5, the segment leader and reference in China and present here for much longer. This is also more than any other imported luxury SUV, corresponding to roughly 50.000 annual units, it compares with 39.300 BMW X5 in 2015, 39.000 Toyota Prado and 27.800 Porsche Macan. The decision by Jaguar Land Rover to start producing locally was a good one then. Despite producing locally at lower cost, Land Rover is selling the Discovery Sport in China at prices almost 50% higher than in the U.S., ranging from 368.000 to 518.000 yuan (US$56.300-79.200) vs. $38,450-46,950 in the U.S., meaning the cheapest Chinese variant is $10.000 dearer than the most expensive U.S. variant!

Bar for success: 4.000 monthly sales

Dongfeng Fengguang 580 China May 2016

3. Dongfeng Fengguang 580 (#156 – 3.022 sales)

Playing a big part in propelling Dongfeng to #2 in my list of the Most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show 2016, the Fengguang 580 ticks absolutely all boxes in the current Chinese market conditions. Its exterior and interior designs are leaps and bounds above what the brand has given us so far in the segment (think Fengguang 330-360), the dashboard console features a large touch screen and the connectivity is optimal: full smartphone integration, satellite navigation, a wifi hot spot and permanent 4G internet. Plus, it’s a seven seater. All this for an almost impossibly low price ranging between 72.900 and 99.999 yuan (US$ 11.100 – 15.300). At 4.68m long and powered by a 1.5L turbocharged 4-cyl petrol engine, the Fengguang 580 smartly leaves the similarly-sized Dongfeng Fengshen AX7 in a different price range altogether (115.700 – 149.700 yuan) and competes full-frontal with the very successful but a lot more basic Changan CX70 and BAIC Huansu S3. This could be a true blockbuster for Dongfeng.

Bar for success: 7.000 monthly sales

BAIC Senova X55 China May 2016. Picture courtesy 58che.com

4. BAIC Senova X35 (#158 – 3.003 sales)

Beijing Auto is expanding the Senova SUV lineup at lightning speed: after the X65 in February 2015 (personal best: 3.971 sales), the X25 last October (10.593) and the X55 last December (6.492), here comes the X35. At 4.30m long and powered by a 1.5L petrol engine, the Senova X35 is priced between 70.000 and 90.000 yuan (US$10.700 – 13.800) and thus competes with the FAW Xenia R7 described above. The Senova sub-brand is however a lot more familiar to Chinese consumers and its relative refinement is understood, enabling the model to justify these prices, a tad on the high end for a Chinese carmaker. Its commercial start, above 3.000 units, is already good but it should go much higher to really please BAIC.

Bar for success: 8.000 monthly sales

Geely Emgrand GS China May 2016

5. Geely Emgrand GS (#167 – 2.800 sales)

It took a little while, but Geely is now truly entering the SUV segment with very attractive offerings and the manufacturer isn’t doing things in half: only two months after launching the Boyue which has already accumulated 11.069 deliveries, Geely gets the Emgrand GS into market with a solid 2.800 sales for its first month. Built on Geely’s FE platform, which is developed with Volvo technical support and at 4.40m long, the GS is priced between 77.800 and 108.800 yuan (US$11.900 – 16.600), slotting nicely below the 4.52m Boyue (98.800-157.800 yuan).

Geely Emgrand GS China May 2016. Picture courtesy auto.sina.cn Geely Emgrand GS interior China May 2016. Picture courtesy auto.sina.cn

The GS interior quality was one of the elements that made me choose Geely as the Most impressive Chinese carmaker at the Beijing Auto Show 2016. Volvo’s influence is palpable in many aspects of the car which offers real value for money to the Chinese car buyer. A 10.000 monthly sales score seems a reasonable bar for success as far as the GS is concerned, but the attention to detail the brand has displayed with it should be able to lift it further up. The only element that could hamper its sales is its hatchback format, traditionally harder to sell to a Chinese audience. But the Emgrand GS has “European market” written all over it. Will Geely finally make the plunge?

Bar for success: 10.000 monthly sales

Range Rover Evoque China May 2016. Picture courtesy auto.sina.cn

6. Range Rover Evoque (#211 – 1.636 sales)

Just as the Land Rover Discovery Sport detailed above, the Range Rover Evoque makes its first appearance in the China-made sales ranking this month even though it launched back in February 2015. And just like for its stablemate, JLR is applying larger-than-life markups to the Evoque’s Chinese pricing – a whopping 61% compared to the starting U.S. price: from 448.000 to 582.800 yuan (US$68.500 – 89.100) vs. $42.470 – 61.770 in the U.S. The smaller sales figure is still respectable but has probably been impacted by the arrival a year ago of a clone by Landwind, the X7, priced at almost a quarter of the price from 129.800 – 147.800 yuan (US$19.900 – 22.600). Although Landwind doesn’t communicate sales by model, the X7 has lifted the brand from a mere 1.833 units in May 2015 to a peak of 10.001 deliveries last March, and accounts for the overwhelming majority of the 61.740 sales Landwind has accumulated over the past 12 months. It is undeniable that the Landwind X7 has hurt the commercial success of the Range Rover Evoque, and for this reason JLR has filed this month a legal action against Chinese automaker Jiangling Motors, the owner of the Landwind brand, for allegedly copying the Evoque.

Bar for success: 4.000 monthly sales

Haima V70 China May 2016. Picture courtesy auto.sina.cn

7. Haima V70 (#230 – 1.152 sales)

Haima is coming late to the MPV race and with a design that seems dated already, although the mark of Luciano D’Ambrosio. Offering 6 or 7 seating positions, the V70 is 4.75m long, has two engine options (2.0L and 1.5T) and is priced between 79.800 and 129.800 yuan (US$ 12.200 – 19.200), neither cheap nor expensive and therefore in some kind of no man’s land for a Chinese manufacturer as buyers may prefer a foreign brand. Haima has been struggling to sell anything other than the S5 crossover lately, but thanks to it the brand is up 18% so far in 2016. Entering the MPV arena a few years too late and facing some very accomplished performers such as Changan make this a difficult task for Haima.

Bar for success: 2.500 monthly sales

Mercedes V Class China May 2016. Picture courtesy xcar.com.cn

8. Mercedes V-Class (#271 – 628 sales)

This is the V-Class we know in Europe, aka the Metris in the U.S., manufactured in China by Fujian Benz, a subsidiary of Beijing Benz. Mercedes is selling the standard 5.14m variant as well as a 5.37m LWB. The pricing, between 489.000 and 618.000 yuan (US$ 74.800 – 94.500) reserve the V-Class to a very exclusive elite and 5-star hotels, and is here too grossly exaggerated compared to a humble U.S. pricing going from $29.945 to $33.495. Yes you have read right, we’re looking at a 182% markup at equal production cost, and with the China production cost standing well below the U.S. one, closer to 200-250% markup. Neither the Viano nor the Vito venture very often above 500 monthly sales in China so doubling that amount would be a significant achievement already for the V-Class.

Bar for success: 1.000 monthly sales

GAC Trumpchi China May 2016. Picture courtesy autohome.com.cn

9. GAC Trumpchi GA8 (#331 – 215 sales)

The last new entrant this month is by a brand that has distinguished itself with the tremendous success of its Trumpchi GS4 SUV, appearing in the overall Top 10 for the past two months. Making no secret of wanting to enter the U.S. market in the next few years, GAC has requested the help of its Chinese joint-venture partner FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in doing so. The GA8 is the brand’s new flagship, and although it’s not headed for registering much of a mark on the Chinese market, this is precisely the type of format that could give GAC the best chances at succeeding on American shores. The GA8 has two engine options: either a 2.0T 4-cyl. with 188hp or  a 1.8T with 177hp, both mated to a seven-speed DCT. It is over 5m long and priced between 169.800 and 299.800 yuan (US$ 26.000 – 45.800). In China, it competes with the Dongfeng Aeolus A9, Geely GC9, Zotye Z700 and Roewe 950. Were it to come to the U.S., it would need to shave off a few thousand bucks to be a reasonable alternative to the best-sellers Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, ranging between $23,000 and $35.000. See what GAC did there?

Bar for success: 1.500 monthly sales

China May 2016: Price cuts lift market up 11%, Hongguang back to #1

Wuling Hongguang S1 China May 2016A new crossover-looking variant helps lift the Wuling Hongguang back to #1 in May.

* See the Top 70 All-China made brands and Top 396 All-models by clicking on the title *

The Chinese light vehicle market manages a double-digit year-on-year gain for the second time in three months in May, up 11% to 1.793 million units, pushing the year-to-date total up 7.8% to 9.258 million deliveries, according the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Note these figures exclude medium and heavy commercial vehicles. Once again the SUV segment is the engine of growth in China with volumes up 38% in May to 637.256 and up 45% year-to-date to 3.218 million. That’s over one million additional SUVs Chinese consumers bought this year compared to the same period last year… MPV sales are up 19% to 170.332 and up 11% year-to-date to 1.017 million. Even sedans are back in positive at +0.8% to 922.125 sales but remain down 6.5% so far this year at 4.652 million units. Microvans on the contrary continue their freefall at -37% to 64.300 units now that they are being ditched by rural buyers for MPVs and crossovers.

VW Bora China May 2016. Picture courtesy gouchezj.comThe facelifted Bora (+46%) helps Volkswagen China sales up 6% in May. 

General Motors posts a 17% increase to 295.282 sales, with Buick the most dynamic Top 10 brand at +36% but Chevrolet disappointing again at -26%. Volkswagen remains by far the most popular marque in China despite growing slower than the market at +6% to 232.400 deliveries. The majority of VW sedans display outstanding gains this month: the Lavida is up 19% in 2nd place overall, the Jetta up 31%, the Sagitar up 25%, Polo up 17% and refreshed Bora up 46%. The Tiguan (-11%) is waiting for the new generation to kick start production in China. Toyota Motor Corp. follows the overall trend with sales up 12% to 102.900, but Hyundai at 100.328 (+25%) and Honda Motor Co. at 99.456 (+24%) are gaining twice as much ground as the market and catching up fast. Honda places 3 nameplates among the Top 10 SUVs in the country this month: the XR-V (14.959), Vezel (14.398) and CR-V (14.194).

Honda XR-V China May 2016. Picture courtesy autohome.com.cnHonda is up 24% mainly thanks to the XR-V and Vezel twins adding up to 29.357 sales.

The Nissan Group is struggling to keep pace: up just 3% to 106.100 deliveries including Infiniti and low-cost brand Venucia. Year-to-date, Nissan is up 1.3% to 500.900 sales whereas Toyota is up 20% to 495.000 and Honda up 15% to 445.800. At this rate, Toyota could overtake Nissan as the most popular Japanese carmaker in China by the end of 2016. Meanwhile Ford drops 2.5% to 88.248, handicapped by declining light commercial vehicle sales through its joint-venture with Jiangling Motors Corp. (JMC), down 4% and imports down 45% to just 1.501 units. Ford’s year-to-date volumes are up 5% to 479.542.

Chery Arrizo 5 China May 2016. Picture courtesy cheshi.comThe Chery Arrizo 5 hits five-digit sales figures for its third month in market. 

In the luxury aisle, Audi keeps its crown with deliveries up 5.5% to 50.002 units in May, adding up to 239.600 (+6%) so far this year. BMW is up 7% to 40.123 sales and up 6% over five months to 202.300 while Mercedes continues on its stellar run: up 39% in May to 38.271 units and up 36% so far in 2016 to 180.537. The Audi A6L at 11.227 units is the best-selling luxury nameplate in China in May, distancing the Audi Q5 (10.708), Audi A4L (9.774), Mercedes C-Class L (up 179% to 9.582), BMW 3 Series L (8.285) and Audi Q3 up 78% to 8.269.

Changan CX70 China May 2016. Picture courtesy xcar.com.cnInstant blockbuster status for the Changan CX70.

Among Chinese carmakers, Great Wall Motors is up 9.5% to 71.636 units including 61.793 (+20%) for its SUV brand Haval. The H6, the first SUV to ever top the overall Chinese sales charts last month, is back down to #3 overall but still up 25% year-on-year to 37.435 units and has had to see its starting price cut by 16% in one year to 88.800 yuan (US$13.500) to achieve these figures. Geely is up 18% to 46.134 units, lifted b  impressive scores by its two best-selling sedans, the Emgrand EC7 up 17% and the Vision up 24%, as well as a great start by the Boyue SUV, already inside the Top 100 thanks to 6.049 units sold in May. Wuling (+24%) gets a boost from a rejuvenated Hongguang, up 31% to reclaim the pole position it holds year-to-date thanks to the arrival of a crossover-looking S1 variant.

Geely Boyue China May 2016. Picture courtesy che.comThe Geely Boyue is already inside the Top 100. 

On the other hand, Baojun significantly slows down its growth at +14% to 34.459 units: the 560 crossover is down a further 3 spots on April to #12 vs. #4 year-to-date while the 730 MPV is down 46% year-on-year to #28 vs. #8 so far in 2016. In other model news, the Buick Excelle GT continues to post stunning scores (+59%), the GAC Trumpchi GS4 remains in the overall Top 10 and ranks #2 SUV, the Ford Escort breaks into it for the second time ever, the Buick Envision is up 40% to a best-ever #11, the Hyundai Tucson is up 25 ranks on last month to #23 and the Changan Oushang is up 9 spots to break is volume record at 12.928.

Changhe Q25 China May 2016. Picture autohome.com.cnThe Q25 single-handedly puts back the Changhe brand on the map. 

Among recent launches, the Chery Arrizo 5 is the biggest surprise of the month, gaining a further 35% on April to reach 10.986 sales for its third month in market and becoming the 2nd best-selling Chinese sedan at home below just the Geely Emgrand EC7 and above the Changan Eado. The Changan CX70 is up 127% on last month to land at #62 with 9.723 units, the Geely Boyue is up 51% to #94 and 6.049 deliveries, the BYD Yuan is up 69% to #114 and 5.248, the BAIC Weiwang S50 up 94% to #133 and the Cadillac XT5 up 53% to #165.

Haval H7 China May 2016. Picture courtesy autohome.com.cnEarly signs are good for the Haval H7. 

But the most significant new launches variations in May are posted by the Changhe Q25, literally taking off from just 829 sales in April to 5.259 in May and giving the brand a presence again in the market. Secondly, the Haval H7 is up 146% on its inaugural month to 3.175 sales. A momentous launch for the successful SUV brand, the H7 is already above the monthly bests for both the H8 (1.373) and H9 (3.066). If the H7’s upwards trend continues, it could demonstrate that Chinese buyers are now prepared to spend more on a Chinese SUV than the best-seller H6.

Previous month: China April 2016: Haval H6 first SUV to lead the overall ranking

One year ago: China May 2015: Wuling Hongguang, VW Group tumble in slow market

Full May 2016 Top 70 All-China made brands and Top 396 All-models below.

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Switzerland May 2016: Volkswagen up 2% in market down 5%

VW Tiguan Switzerland May 2016Volkswagen goes agains the grain with a 2% gain, partly thanks to the new Tiguan. 

* See the Top 40 best-selling brands and Top 330 All-models by clicking on the title *

Another month in negative for Switzerland, with new car sales down 5% year-on-year in May to 26.123 units, dragging the year-to-date tally down 1.5% to 126.778 deliveries. Volkswagen manages to gain ground at +2% to post a solid 13.5% market share vs. 12.2% so far in 2016, and is followed as per the year-to-date ranking by BMW (-4%), Mercedes (+2%), Skoda (-14%) and Audi (-19%). Ford (+9%) and Opel (-18%) overtake Renault (-27%) to rank 6th and 7th respectively, while Hyundai (+31%) delivers the largest year-on-year improvement inside the Top 20. Mazda (+19%), Volvo (+23%), Dacia (+16%), Mini (+17%), Kia (+19%) and Honda (+80%) also frankly beat the market just as Jaguar gains 144%, boosted by the XE and F-Pace.

The VW Golf reclaims the pole position in the models ranking but its thin advantage over the Skoda Octavia (19 sales) doesn’t allow it to return to #1 year-to-date as well: the Octavia still leads after five months with 4.978 units vs. 4.811. The VW Polo (+44%) is faithful to the 3rd place it also holds YTD while the VW Tiguan is up 81 spots on April to #4 thanks to the new generation. The Mini Cooper is up 43% to #5, the BMW 2 Series up 31% to #6, the Hyundai Tucson up to a brilliant 9th spot, the Seat Alhambra up 61% to #18 and the BMW X1 up 115% to #19.

Previous month: Switzerland April 2016: Skoda Octavia dominant, BMW X1 in Top 10

One year ago: Switzerland May 2015: Volkswagen Group monopolises Top 8

Full May 2016 Top 40 brands and Top 330 All-models below.

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Vietnam May 2016: Ford Ranger resists in pole position

Ford Ranger Vietnam May 2016. Picture courtesy napthungxebantai.vnThe Ford Ranger is the best-selling vehicle in Vietnam in May. 

* See the Top 50 best-selling models and Top 20 manufacturers by clicking on the title *

The Vietnamese new car market continues to gallop upwards, with sales up 45% in May to 26.028, lifting the year-to-date total up 31% to 111.442 units. Thaco-Kia remains the most popular manufacturer at 7.388 units (+41%) mainly thanks to heavy commercial vehicles. It is followed by Toyota (+10%), Mazda (+94%) and Ford (+33%) while Hyundai is up 222% to 5th place, here too thanks to commercials. Over in the models ranking, the Ford Ranger manages a second consecutive month atop the charts thanks to sales up 31% to 1.074, edging past the Toyota Vios at 1.066 (+23%) and the Toyota Fortuner at 1.025 (+31%). The Mazda3 continues to perform brilliantly with sales up a whopping 185% on a year ago to 890, ahead of the Kia Morning and Toyota Innova. The Mazda CX-5 (+136%) and Kia K3 (+100%) also frankly beat the market.

Previous month: Vietnam April 2016: Ford Ranger upsets Toyota Vios

One year ago: Vietnam May 2015: Ford Ranger up to 2nd place in market up 48%

Full May 2016 Top 20 All-brands and Top 50 models below.

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Argentina May 2016: Toyota Hilux takes the YTD lead

Toyota Hilux Argentina May 2016The Toyota Hilux is now the most popular nameplate in Argentina in 2016.

* See the Top 34 All-brands and Top 182 All-models by clicking on the title *

Argentinean new car sales confirm they are on the road to recovery in May, gaining 25% year-on-year to 58.906 units, leading to a year-to-date total up 10% to 280.497 deliveries. Volkswagen remains the most popular brand in the country but loses share year-on-year due to a meagre 7% improvement to 9.311 units and 15.8%. Ford (+14%), Renault (+77%) and Toyota (+53%) all overtake Chevrolet (+7%), knocked down to 5th place vs. #2 year-to-date. Honda (+37%), Peugeot (+66%), Agrale (+117%), BMW (+397%) and Jeep (+768%) all brilliantly outperform the market inside the Top 20. Model-wise, we have a new leader: thanks to deliveries up 91% to 3.362 with the new generation, the Toyota Hilux bypasses the Chevrolet Classic in the year-to-date ranking at 13.092 (+28%) vs. 12.716 (+46%) while the 2015 leader, the VW Gol Trend, is down 3% to #4 and 11.460 units. The VW Amarok is up a stunning 76% to land in 4th place overall, becoming the brand’s best-seller in Argentina this month.

Previous month: Argentina April 2016: Toyota Hilux leads, Renault Duster Oroch lands

One year ago: Argentina May 2015: Can the new Sandero save Renault?

Full May 2016 Top 34 All-brands and Top 182 All-models below.

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UK: Brexit means no sales record in 2016 and production uncertainty

EU-Brexit-referedum

The decision by UK voters to choose to leave the European Union after 43 years will trigger a “period of uncertainty” according to BMW, who manufactures Mini and Rolls-Royce cars in the UK. Most analysts including myself agree. After smashing its all-time volume record last year to 2.633.533 units, the UK market is set to fall 4% in 2016 amid economic instability and currency volatility according to Equity analysts Evercore ISI. This is to be compared with a pre-Brexit forecast of 3% growth. Given the current 4% year-on-year increase at end-May, this means a 10% drop over the next 6 months until the end of the year, which is also the decline rate Evercore ISI is predicting for the Full Year 2017, leading to a 2.5% percent fall in European production.

Jaguar F-Pace UK April 2016. Picture courtesy autoexpress.co.ukTroubled waters ahead: UK’s largest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, and BMW though its Mini and Rolls-Royce operations.

A June 2016 survey by independent pollster ComRes showed 77% of members of the trade body for the UK automotive sector, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said remaining in Europe would be best for their business. Throughout the campaign, all carmakers with operations in the UK had multiplied the warnings that a Brexit would impact negatively both sales and production in the country. Now that Brexit has become a reality, the industry is bracing for troubled waters ahead. Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “The British public has chosen a new future out of Europe. Government must now maintain economic stability and secure a deal with the EU which safeguards UK automotive interests. This includes securing tariff-free access to European and other global markets, ensuring we can recruit talent from the EU and the rest of the world and making the UK the most competitive place in Europe for automotive investment.”

Nissan Qashqai UK June 2016Built in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, the Nissan Qashqai is the #1 UK-made export to the EU.

The UK automotive industry is mainly owned by foreign manufacturers including Nissan, Toyota and Honda, who set up factories in the UK mainly to export to the EU. Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover remains the UK’s largest carmaker, but is followed closely by Nissan, present in the UK for 32 years and manufacturing 475.000 cars annually, notably to hot-seller Qashqai, most of them for export inside the EU. Sunderland in northern England, where Nissan has its operations, was among the constituencies that surprised pundits by voting for Brexit. This quote by AN Europe.

Toyota Auris UK June 2016Toyota manufactures the Auris for the EU in Burnaston, Derbyshire.

Toyota, a local manufacturer for the past 24 years, warned its employees that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU may lead to levies of as much as 10% on the cars it builds in Britain. The Japanese carmaker exports 90% of the vehicles it manufactures in the UK, and 75% of these are sold in the EU. One Asian automaker executive with manufacturing capacity in Britain, speaking on condition of anonymity to Automotive News Europe, said: “We don’t have any choice but to be more cautious with our investment decisions, including moves like whether to produce a new or significantly redesigned vehicle model in the UK.”

Report: Can the No.1 SUV brand in China take on the Australian Outback? Part 1: The stakes

Haval Australian Outback June 2016Haval is the No.1 SUV brand in China. Can it tackle the Australian Outback then? 

If you are a regular BSCB reader, you will already be familiar with the Chinese brand Haval. It has been the best-selling SUV brand in China for the past 13 consecutive years, previously known as Hover – a Great Wall sub-brand – until 2013 when the standalone Haval marque came to life. Last April, the Haval H6 became the first ever SUV to lead the overall Chinese sales charts outright with a stunning 43.946 units sold in a single month. Great Wall has been very efficient at developing the Haval lineup, earning the #1 spot in our annual ranking of the Most impressive Chinese brands both at the Beijing Auto Show in 2014 and the Shanghai Auto Show in 2015. Already extremely successful at home, Haval is now spreading its wheels worldwide and has been available in Australia since last October, even though the brand has yet to make its appearance in the Australian sales charts. Speaking with Haval PR Manager Andrew Ellis, it turns out this is because Haval is still in the process of getting certification by the FCAI – so it should pop up later this year.

Haval Lansdale Sydney showroomThe sole Haval dealership in Sydney, located in the Western suburb of Lansvale. 

In fact, Haval is now present in a dozen worldwide markets: starting in June 2015 with Russia and Chile, the marque then expanded further in Latin America with Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay, to Asia with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Malaysia, Africa and the Middle East with Iraq, Oman, the UAE, Benin and South Africa and its only truly mature market to-date: Australia, although no sales figures from any of these markets have percolated to the surface yet. In Australia, the brand operates out of 6 dealerships: one in Sydney (pictured above), two in the Melbourne area, one in Brisbane, one in Perth and one in Wagga Wagga near Canberra. If at BSCB we have been very impressed with Haval’s commercial success at home, lightning fast lineup expansion, as well as attractive exterior and interior design, we had not driven one yet. This gap is now filled: today we have access to a Haval H8 for one week. When given the same length of time for a review, local Australian press such as Motoring.com.au only took the car through “freeway-biased commuting [to work]”.

This is not how we do things at BSCB…

Map to BirdsvilleWe want to drive the Haval H8 from Sydney to Birdsville – and back. (Click to enlarge)

In the manner we did with Albert the Ram 1500 from New York and Los Angeles in 2014 and Bob the Ram 2500 as part of our Alaska to California 2015 adventure, we are aiming at driving the Haval H8 well into the harsh Australian Outback: all the way to Birdsville at the border between Queensland and South Australia, through the unsealed, rough-as-guts and legendary Birdsville Track. It’s a gruelling 5,000 km return trip to be completed in one week only, going through bitumen, dirt, sand, mud, gravel, rocks and bull dust. Needless to say, no Haval-branded vehicle has ever set its wheels that far into the Australian continent yet, so if we manage this feat, it will be a world first, no less. We want to find out whether the No. 1 SUV brand in China can take on the Australian Outback and its treacherous conditions. If nowadays the Birdsville Track can be traversed with any vehicle in dry conditions, wet weather can render it totally impassable in a matter of minutes and the region has received more rain so far in 2016 than it normally does in three years, making it a true challenge for any car.

Mitsubishi Mirage Oodnadatta Track 2003I took a Mitsubishi Mirage through the Oodnadatta Track in 2003.

There are a few elements at stake in this challenge.

The first is pure and simple survival. The areas we will be exploring with the H8 are some of the most isolated in the world, with almost no traffic, no mobile coverage, no towns for hundreds of km and sometimes no petrol station for up to 500 km. My personal experience of this type of Australian adventure includes driving the Ooodnadatta Track to the West of the areas we will be covering with a… Mitsubishi Mirage in 2003. The conditions were completely dry, enabling a 2WD to pass, but heavy rutting on the track meant it took me four complete days of driving to go through 600km of unsealed roads. I have chosen to undergo the trip alone, with no sat phone. Foolish? It will test the solidarity of fellow travellers as well as the Haval promise of 24/7 roadside assistance in case any technical issues were to point their ugly head. First aid kit, warm clothing (it’s winter in Australia), extra water, food and fuel in the form of two 20L jerrycans are mandatories in order to survive any type of ordeal in the Australian Outback, and these are well and truly on board.

Can Haval replicate the initial success of Great Wall in Australia?

The second challenge is a branding one. In the rare mature markets where they have ventured so far, Chinese manufacturers have to deal with the same level of hostility Japanese carmakers had to suffer in the 1950s and 1960s, then Korean carmakers in the 1980s – some would argue until just recently. Launched in 2009 in Australia, Great Wall has been the only success story of its kind so far here, peaking at #16 in 2011 and selling 37.163 units to-date. An asbestos controversy and disagreement with its previous importer Ateco has meant the brand is currently at a standstill (11 sales in 2016), but is staging a comeback later this year with the new generation Wingle 6 pickup through the same importer as Haval: Performax. Even though insults continue to be hurled at the brand on local automotive forums, they mostly come from customers having never tested a Great Wall vehicle, whereas owners are by and large very satisfied with the reliability of their purchase, especially in the Australian Outback: in 2014 I met a Great Wall owner in Bourke who replaced her ailing Toyota Hilux with a Great Wall SUV and has never looked back since.

Haval H8 Guangzhou Auto Show 2015The Haval H8 in a scary – yet controlled – posture at the Guangzhou Auto Show 2015. 

However, launching yet another brand, Haval, means Great Wall has to start from scratch again and build its reputation from the bottom up. I have been sceptical of this branding strategy that seems like a lot of work where the Great Wall brand had already cleared some ground. I’ll be sure to speak with as many locals as possible throughout the trip to gage the chances of this new brand making its mark in Australia. There are only a handful of other Chinese carmakers operating in Australia currently, but none is coming anywhere near the success Great Wall achieved in its first couple of years in market. LDV (625 sales) and Foton (356) both hold a tiny 0.1% market share so far in 2016, whereas Chery has all but disappeared (9) and both Geely and MG have thrown the towel for now. In other words, market conditions are at an all-time low for Chinese carmakers in Australia and adverse perceptions at an all-time high.

Haval H8 SydneyHaval H8 Premium AWD – with a facetious license plate.

The third challenge – and arguably the most interesting – is a capability one. The vehicle we have at our disposal for the week is the Premium AWD variant which saw its price slashed from AU$44,490 to $41,990 as part of an ongoing stocktake sale. It slots between the $38,990 Premium 2WD and the $44,990 LUX AWD and competes with the likes of the homegrown Ford Territory, the Holden Captiva 7, Nissan Pathfinder and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The H8 is part of a three-model lineup currently offered by Haval in Australia along with the small crossover H2 and the Toyota Prado-competing full time 4WD H9 complete with snow and sand modes.

If the H9 is expected to go anywhere, testing the H8 is where the true challenge resides, as it is what is called in Australia an AWD SUV, meaning the 4WD mode is switched on electronically when the car feels it needs it, prompting some to say it’s not a real 4WD. Add to this the fact that China hasn’t really yet caught up with the worldwide off-road driving fever – most SUVs and crossovers sold there are 2WD-only and never get taken out of the city – it begs the question: is the H8 actually a true 4WD-capable vehicle and can it perform on very poor road conditions? Australia has a long tradition of off-road exploring and true adventure, so it’s the perfect sandpit for such a test.

Haval H8 ArrivalGive a warm welcome to Damo, our Haval H8 for one week. 

More generally, can Haval back up its claim of No.1 SUV brand in China and aspirations of becoming the No. 1 SUV brand in the world with truly capable cars? There’s only one way to find out, and it’s called a wet and muddy Birdsville Track. Before we can set off though, our H8 needs a name. After Albert, Bob the Rams and Charlie our Hawaii Jeep Wrangler, H8’s name has to start with D and he has been baptised Damo – Aussie short for Damian – so he fits in with all the other kids in the yard (See why I chose a male name here). Indeed in Australia, and in particular in the Outback, no name stays intact – even Matt becomes Matty – and all are fondly played with: Jonathan becomes Jono, Dick becomes Dicko. And it doesn’t stop with names: see favourite Australian slang: When in doubt, add an “o”.

Welcome to the Australian Outback, Damo.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Sydney to Broken Hill

Indonesia May 2016: Toyota Avanza & Daihatsu Xenia back at the helm

Daihatsu Xenia Indonesia May 2016. Picture courtesy autobild.co.idThe Daihatsu Xenia leaps up to 2nd place for only the 2nd time in 3 years.

* See the Top 20 best-selling models by clicking on the title *

New car sales in Indonesia encouragingly gain ground year-on-year for the second month in a row at +12% to 88.519 units in May. The year-to-date total now stands at 440.466 sales, down just 1% of 5.000 deliveries on the same period last year. One year ago, the perennial market leader – the Toyota Avanza – slumped to its first sub-10.000 sales month in over four years (6.778). Now armed with a new generation, Avanza sales almost double year-on-year (+98%) to 13.451 and 15.2% share vs. 12.7% so far this year. Bonus: its twin the Daihatsu Xenia is also in outstanding shape, up 26% to leap into 2nd place with 5.318 sales and 6% share. It is only the second time in the past 3 years (along with August 2015) that the Avanza and Xenia twins sign a 1-2 in Indonesia. In fact, the Toyota Group monopolises the Top 5 this month with the Toyota Agya at #3, its twin the Daihatsu Ayla at #4 (+103%) and the Toyota Kijang Innova at #5 (+38%). The Honda BR-V remains spot at #6, the Honda HR-V is up 141% to #8, the Toyota Fortuner up 173% to #9 and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport holding strong at #15.

Previous month: Indonesia April 2016: First year-on-year gain in 20 months (+4%)

One year ago: Indonesia May 2015: Toyota Avanza freefalls in lowest May in 4 years

Full May 2016 Top 20 models Ranking Table below.

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Austria May 2016: Hyundai Tucson back inside Top 10

Hyundai Tucson Austria May 2016. Picture auto-motor-und-sport.deThe Hyundai Tucson leaps up to #9 in Austria this month. 

* See the Top 43 All-brands and Top 275 All-models by clicking on the title *

The Austrian new car market is up 7% year-on-year in May to 28.462 registrations, lifting the year-to-date total up 5% to 138.019 units. The entire Top 5 brands beat the market: Volkswagen (+11%), Opel (+18%), Skoda (+14%), Audi (+31%) and Renault (+27%) dominate, while Jeep (+20%), Kia (+84%) and Jaguar (+310%) also shine. Model-wise, the VW Golf is stable to 5.8% share, the Skoda Octavia up 51% to 3.6% and the VW Polo up 75% to 2.3%, replicating the year-to-date podium. The Opel Astra gains one spot on April to 4th place thanks to sals up 10% to 702 units. Further down, notice the Opel Mokka up 112% to #6, the Audi A4 up 48% to #8 and the Hyundai Tucson up 8 ranks on last month to break into the Top 10 for the second time this year at #9.

Previous month: Austria April 2016: 10 Volkswagen Group nameplates in the Top 12

One year ago: Austria May 2015: Fiat 500 family on podium

Full May 2016 Top 43 All-brands and Top 275 All-models below.

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