Beijing Auto Show 2016: The most impressive Chinese carmakers (2/6)

Haval HR-02 ConceptA surprise lurks at #11…

This is Part 2 of my ranking of the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Beijing Auto Show 2016, you can see Part 1 (#30 to #21) here. We are progressively climbing up the ladder, now covering positions #20 to #11. Given how fast Chinese carmakers are improving, ranking within these positions now means you are doing very well indeed, and sometimes are among the best in terms of quality. But it’s the whole package we are looking for. A big surprise awaits at #11… All the justifications behind the rankings are below.

Changhe Q35Changhe Q35 

20. Changhe (34,-)

BAIC has decided the Changhe brand can play a differentiated role in its large stable as youthful and accessible, and is therefore suddenly reviving it at breakneck speed. Only one month after the Q25 went on sale in China, Changhe presents a bright orange Q35 looking better than its inspiration, the BAIC Senova X35 (more on this one later) along with a crossovered-up Q25 next to it, and accompanies the whole thing with an aggressive advertising campaign in the subway stop of the Exhibition Hall. The new naming code is consistent so far, the exterior design and interior quality are miles ahead of what Changhe got us used to and it’s all heartwarming to see. Last year we thought the Changhe brand was almost dead – it’s definitely not, and we should expect a lot more fun-looking rebadges in the near future.

Changhe BillboardChanghe advertising outside the Exhibition Hall 

Changhe Q25Changhe Q25

Soueast DX ConceptSoueast DX Concept – with Mitsubishi footage

19. Soueast (8,18)

Logically, the DX7 SUV – unveiled last year in Shanghai – now accounts for the large majority of Soueast sales. Its interior quality was extremely impressive last year and it still is this year, especially in the sporty version exhibited. Soueast had announced an all-new DX3 for Beijing, which would have kept the brand inside the Top 10, instead we got a striking but decidedly concept-looking DX. It’s a pity, and Soueast should be careful not to become a one-hit-wonder. Also, its ties with joint-venture partner Mitsubishi seem inextricable, which prevents the brand from blossoming fully.

Soueast DX7 interior Pic2 Soueast DX7 interior Pic1Soueast DX7 interior

Baojun 310Baojun 310

18. Baojun (9,12)

Baojun is the sales success story of the past two years: it has gone from nothing to half a million sales in 2015 and is headed towards over 800.000 this year. All this thanks to only two nameplates: the 730 MPV unveiled two years ago in Beijing and the 560 SUV launched in Shanghai exactly a year ago. So when I stepped onto the Baojun stand I was bracing for another stroke of genius such as another SUV or a new format about to revolutionise the Chinese market: a cross between an SUV and an MPV, a 9-seat SUV – who knows. Yes, this is the type of expectations Chinese carmakers have got us used to!

Baojun standBaojun stand

Alas, Baojun did launch a new nameplate this year but it was the 310, a small hatchback seemingly out-of-touch with the consumer tastes of today, but if Baojun says so, I tend to want to follow. Perhaps this is the next big thing in China. As it is the case for all Baojun-branded nameplates, the interior quality is a lot better than what you’d expect for the price, estimated to start at 45.000 yuan (US$7.000). The Baojun stand gets bigger and bigger as the Shows come along, now looking clean and fresh with a green and while colour scheme. We are fans.

Baojun 310 interiorBaojun 310 interior

Lifan stand Pic2Lifan stand at the Beijing Auto Show 2016

17. Lifan (15,21)

Lifan is in dire straits, with sales plummeting down 77% year-on-year so far in 2016. The X70 and X40 the brand unveiled in Shanghai last year were all bluff: they never saw the light of day. In this context I was half-expecting not to see Lifan at all this year in Beijing. Not so. Rising from the ashes like the phoenix, Lifan showed us they won’t go without a fight, with a new 650 sedan but most importantly a new 7-seat SUV: the Maiwei. Front and center on the Lifan stand – and rightly so – the Maiwai is conforming to the current design trends outside, but it’s inside that the brand’s progress is the most blatant…

Lifan MaiweiLifan Maiwei 

Lifan Maiwei interior Pic2Lifan Maiwei interior

Lifan had used us to completely outdated interiors made of shiny plastic and looking positively cheap. In this domain, the Maiwei is light-years ahead of anything Lifan has produced so far. Still not reaching the top of the crop of Chinese carmakers – that would be a miracle – it is now in the same field as Baojun which is a good thing because the two brands compete on price. A very enthusiastic staff (“This car is called the Maiwei: It’s My Way! giggles-giggles) and the guts to step away from its numerical naming round up a very good performance of the brand in Beijing. In other words, Lifan is finally where it belongs on the Chinese scale. Now it needs the sales to cement this progress.

Maxus D90 Concept Pic1Maxus D90 Concept 

16. Maxus (13,15)

At each Auto Show, LCV specialist and SAIC-owned Maxus comes up with its own little lot of surprises, but this year is the best so far, so don’t be fooled by the brand’s slightly lower ranking, it just means everyone is improving fast(er). Taking me completely by surprise and cleverly adapting the local SUV craze to its own strength – large,  functional and increasingly sleek MPVs – Maxus revealed a D90 Concept that looks very enticing indeed. Some might say it even takes cues from the new Jaguar F-Pace, which would be one heck of a compliment. Granted, it’s only a concept, but damn it looks good and knowing the Chinese, they wouldn’t display such a demonstration of style and force if there weren’t any production plans behind it. Please Maxus, give us the D90. Now.

Maxus D90 Concept Pic2…also looking sexy from the back.

Changan standChangan stand at Beijing Auto Show 2016

15. Changan/Chana (7,8)

The performance of Changan at the Beijing Auto Show 2016 is one of constant progress – as its ranking does not indicate. The marque has grown to be the third largest best-selling in China below just Volkswagen and Wuling and above all the Japanese and Korean offers, which is an astounding exploit in itself. The CS75 and CS35 SUVs have continued to post staggering sales figures month after month and the recently launched CS15 looks like it’s headed the same way. The Changan stand was enormous and introduced the new CS95, sporting a Geely-inspired grille making it look more aggressive than its overall silhouette.

Changan CS95 Pic2Changan CS95 grille

The disappointing element of my Changan review last year in Shanghai was the uneven interior quality of its lineup: apart from the very strong CS75 the rest was falling apart. This is now sorted, with CS35 and CS15 interior quality on par with the CS75 – a major achievement in itself. Annoyingly though, the brand persists in its schizophrenic ways, once again splitting between Changan and Chana – supposedly its commercial vehicle division but now selling passenger cars as well. Chana had a large stand outside all exhibition halls across the West entrance, meaning you must go through it if you enter the Show this way but chances are you will never see it if you come in and out through the media entrance. The Oushang and CX70 were promoted on the Chana stand with both models featuring the specific Chana logo. Argh, one of my pet hate: two logos for one brand.

ChangAn CS15 interiorChangan CS15 interior Chana Stand Chana CX70Chana stand and Chana CX70

The Chana hostesses were as welcoming as last year in Beijing, giving away goodie bags to every passing visitor. It all sounds reasonably good an better than last year, so why does Changan not rank higher in 2016? There was just no real excitement, energy and pride on the stands, it felt like business-as-usual everywhere, there were no race car to spice up the Changan stand, no frank smiles on the hosts. It all was very professional, which is a good thing, but lacked that little bit of p’zaz to sparkle. Changan is a big player now, but is in the process of losing its soul.

GAC Trumpchi GS8GAC Trumpchi GS8: the most American-looking Chinese SUV?

14. GAC (12,3)

Since Shanghai last year and therefore in less than 12 months, the GAC Trumpchi brand has gone from tiny player to mainstream Chinese car manufacturer – no less – thanks to the tremendous success of the GS4. Its interior design as well as that of the GA8 flagship sedan are simply irreproachable. There is flair, a unique style and robust yet smooth quality inside, something only a handful of Chinese carmakers are offering at the moment. After sponsoring the Transformers Hollywood movie in 2014, GAC Trumpchi has made no secrets about wanting to enter the U.S. market. A date has even been set: 2017.

GAC Trumpchi GA8GAC Trumpchi GA8

If next year may sound a tad enthusiastic, to GAC’s credit its lineup is starting to look like something the Yankees could spend their hard-earned cash on. Topping up the sleek looking lineup along the GS4 and GA8, the all-new GS8 takes the brand’s SUV offer a step further, right into American territory with its angular looks, disproportionately large grille and square-crossed headlights. If the interior quality matches that of its predecessors (it was closed to the press), we have a serious competitor to the Toyota Highlander here.

GAC Trumpchi GS4 interiorGAC Trumpchi GS4 interior

As it is the case for most Chinese manufacturers having succeeded in the SUV segment, this size is a test as it has traditionally been reserved to foreign manufacturers. The Haval H8 and H9 are flops so it will be interesting to see if GAC can pull another miracle off with the GS4.

Roewe RX5Roewe RX5

13. Roewe (14,19)

In Shanghai, SAIC’s Roewe drowned a near-absence of novelties with an outlandishly large stand and a pompous attitude. Beijing not being the manufacturer’s home territory, I wasn’t expecting much from Roewe this year. I was wrong. It has been a long time coming but Roewe finally has an SUV with the potential to take its sales to the next level and above: the RX5 looks sleek, expensive and trendy but it’s inside that the real innovations are. Dubbed by the brand as “the world’s first mass-produced super internet SUV”, the RX5 is the first model equipped with the Yun OS software jointly developed with Chinese tech Alibaba (the equivalent of Amazon in the U.S.). The RX5 is taking the brand younger – targetting the 26-35 year-old age group – and comes complete with plug-in hybrid and battery electric versions, also exhibited at the Show. An impressive move from Roewe.

Zotye T300 ConceptZotye T300 Concept

12. Zotye (17,7)

The first striking element when entering the Zotye stand in Beijing is the fact that it is the only one of all Chinese manufacturers that actually looks… Chinese! Kudos on Zotye for pulling this pretty obvious trick and not falling into the trap of hiding its origins – something most Chinese carmakers seem bent on doing. I came to the Zotye stand with a snark on my face as the recently-launched SR7 has pulled Zotye further down into the murky waters of copycat. Smartly, the brand did not overly feature this nameplate on their stand – unlike Landwind the X7 in Shanghai – preferring to focus on other news. And they won me over again.

Zotye StandZotye stand

The T300, although technically a concept, looks very close to production and has some very pleasing details such as its criss-crossed gaping grille and Zotye-branded brightly coloured brake pads (see pics below). The best-seller T600 came in a new Sport variant with a more aggressive snout and some pret-ty cool technology inside. I must admit I gasped at the rising rotary shifter (see below) and the cordless phone charger. Now keep in mind the maximum you will ever pay for a new Zotye T600 is US$18.500. A very strong performance from Zotye this year, lightyears ahead of its candid appearance at Beijing in 2014.

Zotye T600 Sport interiorZotye T600 Sport interior 3Zotye T600 Sport interior including rising rotary shifter and phone cordless charger under the armrest.

Zotye T300 Concept backZotye T300 Concept

Zotye T300 Concept detail 2 Zotye T300 Concept detailZotye T300 Concept details

Haval H7Haval H7

11. Haval (1,1)

I can hear the gasps coming from all across the BSCB readership: yes the leader of the past two years doesn’t even rank inside the Top 10 this year. Let’s be clear: Haval has not lowered its standards and is still one of the Top 5 Chinese brands that could enter mature markets such as Europe or the U.S.A. immediately and succeed at it. However I felt like Haval was at a standstill compared to last year. The stand was more or less the same, there was no new nameplate presented as the H7 is only going on sale now whereas it was unveiled a year ago in Shanghai, the layout of the stand put most models in the shadows, the two concepts looked suspiciously similar to last year’s, there was no spectacular Haval Dakar 4WD to brighten up the mood and everything was grey and sharp yet professional but a rather static.

Haval H7 interior Pic3Haval H7 interior

A facelifted H2 was shown on the side of the stand on the first press day but had disappeared by day 2. The hostesses are still running to open the door when there’s a sign you might be interested in stepping in a vehicle but it’s all a little mute with no vigour or cantor. This year, Haval sales are only up thanks to heavy price cuts on the H6, with the H1 and H2 in decline, the ageing H5 in freefall and the H8 and H9 never having taken off. The H7 will be a true test for Haval: will customers follow the brand up and transfer sales from the H6 to the H7 or is the price point (148.800-168.800 yuan or US$23.100-26.200) too high? Once again, two concepts, one late launch and one half-baked facelift are what most foreign carmakers gave us in Beijing this year, but in a Chinese context it’s just not cutting it.

Haval H7 interior Pic2Haval H7 interior Pic1Haval H7 interior

Beijing Auto Show 2016: The most impressive Chinese carmakers (1/6)

Foton Gratou interior Pic2Gotta like orange… Foton Gratour ix7 

The wait is over. As is now the tradition at BSCB, I give you the ranking of the Chinese carmakers that impressed me the most at this year’s Auto China 2016 in Beijing. Now in its third iteration, this ranking is getting tuned each year as my expectations of each brand vary based on what I saw in the past three Chinese Auto Shows (Guangzhou 2015 was too small to warrant a full ranking). The Beijing Auto Show is smaller than Shanghai, so this year truck specialists are not included and only brands that could make it into the Top 30 are featured: the competition is getting tough!

Everything comes into consideration in the building of this ranking: from the interior/exterior quality and design of the models exhibited, the number/validity of new cars, concept cars, staff availability, savviness and friendliness as well as whether or not they improved since last year, met/exceeeded my expectations or plain disappointed. As always we are going up the ladder from last to first in pure, old-fashioned hit parade tradition. In brackets is first the brand’s ranking last year at the Shanghai Auto Show, second its ranking in Beijing two years ago. We start with brands ranked #30 to #21.

Wuling Hongguang S1 April 2016

Not ranked: Wuling (-, 11), Landwind (28, -), Weichai Enranger (-,-), Denza (35,27), MG (22,20), Brilliance/Huasong/Jinbei (25,24/18,-/24,16)

These brands do not make it into the Top 30, either because they did not have a stand at the Show or because their performance was too discreet. In the case of Wuling, it is now the second time SAIC-GM decides to pass on dedicating a stand for the best-selling local brand (over 1.5 million sales in 2015) and #2 brand in China overall below Volkswagen. A decision that keeps surprising me Show after Show, especially given the company is spitting out updated versions of its best-seller the Hongguang faster that it takes to write these lines. An aggressive-looking S1 (picture above) was hiding in the corner of one Baojun lineup brochure, and the Hongguang S featured in the Baojun highlight video screen, but that is all.

As for Landwind, after exhibiting its Evoque-clone, the X7, last year in Shanghai in a rather impressive stand, the manufacturer is absent in Beijing as it was already the case two years ago. Newcomer Weichai Enranger was relegated to an outside stand almost impossible to find, Denza had nothing new to show us for the 2nd consecutive years as did MG whose stand only featured a sponsorship with the Liverpool soccer club – a partnership that is already in the open as it is included in all MG China advertising. Brilliance is faithful to a very clear separation of its three brands (along with Jinbei and Huasong) but an absence of novelties keeps them away from the ranking despite the very welcome distribution of water bottles on the stand – surprisingly the only manufacturer doing so in the entire Show…

Qoros3Qoros3

30. Qoros (6,25)

Last year in Shanghai I was impressed by the ambience and attitude of the Qoros brand sticking to its positioning of European sophistication. This time it all fell flat. The Qoros stand was a pale copy of the one from Shanghai and was almost completely deserted by the press whereas in 2015 it was the place to be. Yes the 5 SUV is a step in the right direction for the brand and the interior quality is good but if two-three years ago the Qoros interiors were among the very best for a Chinese brand, they have now fallen behind – a testimony to the speed at which all Chinese manufacturers are improving.

Qoros StandA Qoros stand looking decidedly empty

Haima V70Haima V70

29. Haima (26,4)

Two years ago in Beijing, Haima ranked 4th in my Most Impressive list due to a very playful and confident launch of the S5 SUV. This time the only new nameplate on offer is an already dated V70 MPV – losing me in passing with their naming codes. On the plus side, credit to Haima for flying solo and shedding all tying links with its joint-venture partner Mazda. The ambience of the stand is pleasing mix of black, blue and white (the cars) giving a sophisticated touch, unfortunately not matched by the interior still made of way to much shiny plastic. In two years Haima’s S5 has imposed itself as one of the best-selling SUVs in the country, especially in more remote areas. The least we would have expected is for Haima to launch at least one, better: two new SUVs, such as a S1 and S3 for example. Next year in Shanghai?

Haima S5Haima S5

BYD YuanBYD Yuan 

28. BYD (3,14)

In Shanghai last year I was stunned by BYD’s revival, dynamism and clarity on their “Dynasty series” SUV launches. Unfortunately there is nothing new on the the brand’s stand this year apart from a Qin 100 EV sedan, meaning 100 miles range. BYD looks like it’s still trying to find itself, with SUVs and crossovers taking centre stage (and rightly so) but an hesitation in positioning: is it all about eco-friendly transportation (the brand’s big shout last year) or a more youthful, playful and pragmatic angle as illustrated by the hosts dressed in overalls and tee-shirts? The latter positioning would suck in a lot more sales if you ask me.

JMC S330Nice try, but the canary colour won’t hide a rather bland design for the JMC S330.

27. JMC (16,22)

A year ago JMC entertained with outlandish SUV concepts, looking very exciting indeed. In 2016 it’s back to work for JMC and the first new nameplate in a long while, the Yusheng S330, albeit completely on-trend, on-format, on-design, is very bland compared to what we saw in concept. In fact, the S300 could have been released three years ago that we wouldn’t have noticed. At the speed at which Chinese carmakers are improving, this is clearly not a good sign for JMC. On the plus side, the bright colours that hurt the eyes last year (in a good way) are back, with two examples of the S330 in canary yellow and night blue present on the stand, but in a way they stress the bland design a little further. Please bring back the spark in Shanghai next year JMC!

JAC SC5 ConceptJAC SC5 concept

26. JAC (19,9)

With the Refine S3 and S2, JAC has been one of the main beneficiaries of the sales rush towards small Chinese crossovers over the past couple of years, so they are forgiven for not having much energy left for its local Auto Shows. Profit über alles, and there is nothing wrong with that. Based solely on their presence at the Show though, JAC is sliding down the ranking each year. What saves it from a worse ranking is an appetising-looking SC5 concept, which would be welcome as the next generation Refine JS5 SUV. On the negative side, JAC still hasn’t chosen between two logos, with its models featuring both once again in Beijing: the JAC letter on a blue oval, or the Mercedes-inspired star. Which is for what, we (they) will never know…

Hawtai PlusHawtai is headed in the right direction

25. Hawtai (31,30)

Originally limited to assembling clones of outdated Hyundai SUVs under license, Hawtai has been stuck at the bottom of my Most Impressive rankings both in 2014 and 2015, mainly due to low quality interiors. The brand is stepping up this year, with two novelties on its stand: the xEV260 all-electric SUV based on the Shengdafei and an all-new imposing “Plus” large SUV disrceetly exhibited. Though still not among the best in China, the materials are in progress and it looks like Hawtai is slowly but surely finding its groove and stepping away from its Hyundai heritage. The fact that it is taking a lot longer to improve than most Chinese brands isn’t necessarily a bad sign, it also shows they are careful to avoid a burnout. This makes me look forward to what Hawtai will have in store in 2017 in Shanghai.

LeSEE frontLeSEE Super Car Concept

24. LeSEE (-,-) 

Boldly self-annointed as the Chinese Tesla, LeEco is the equivalent of Netflix in China and is led by charismatic CEO Jia Yueting. Unveiled before the Show on April 20, the LeSEE Super Car stole the headlines in the local press. It is symbolic of Chinese tech companies invading the auto industry the same way Google and Apple are doing in the U.S. The concept is a premium D-Class internet autonomous EV with a max speed of 130 km/h – hardly enough to compete with the Tesla Model S. One of the innovations coming from LeEco is the fact that this car could be free to own based on a content subscription to LeEco, in the same manner as Apple is subsidising the iPhone with long-term data plans. Although very alluring, it definitely looked like a concept in Beijing, preventing it from climbing up higher in the ranking. We’ll have to wait and SEE.

LeSEE interiorLeSEE interior

Qiantu K50Qiantu K50

23. Qiantu (-,-)

Another Chinese EV supercar present in Beijing is this Qiantu K50, looking very impressive indeed. It debuted at the Shanghai Auto Show last year but it somehow fell through the cracks. This time, impossible to miss the Qiantu stand, as big as Lexus across the aisle and spectacularly focused on just one example of the K50. The clever use of space has an effect not dissimilar to what Lamborghini achieves on relatively small stands. The VIP area looks very exclusive indeed, the brochure has its place among the most luxurious brands in the world and makes it look like the K50 is already on sale. Almost: the company reportedly started building its plant in Suzhou, with an on sale date set for 2017. Here too, given the myriad of super car brands that promise outstanding performances and never deliver, we’ll believe it when we see it, but given it seems a lot closer to production than the LeSEE, Qiantu ranks higher.

Foton Gratour ix7Foton Gratour ix7

22. Foton “Gratour” (10,25)

After a very impressive show of strength last year in Shanghai, surprisingly there was no Foton stand in the inside halls in Beijing. Only an outdoors stand dedicated to heavy truck – Foton’s first love – and… the Gratour ix7. Futon’s owner, BAIC, is a champion at confusing us with sub-brands that behave like brands but are in fact rebadges, and does it again with the all-new Gratour label. One ix7 was exhibited in the BAIC Group stand next to a Huansu S6 and Senova X55 (more on this later) and two of them were front-stage in the outdoors Foton stand. The Gratour Auto website also features the ix5 – which we’re going to assume has five seats instead of seven for the ix7. Both look the same and really like a smaller Mercedes van. Foton remains faithful to the “Loud” positioning we enjoyed with a ix7 Boom Box complete with giant bass speakers. Bonus points for the effort but this is still all very confusing to me.

Foton Gratour logoAnd one new logo under the BAIC umbrella, one! 

Foton Gratour StandYet the Gratour models are exhibited under a big Foton logo on the outdoors stand…

Foton Gratour ix7 detailFoton Gratour ix7 Boom Box detail 

Changjiang e.Cool Pic3Changjiang e.Cool

21. Changjiang / Long River (-,-)

We are not in an Chinese Auto Show without a surprise brand popping up on the scene before my rounded out eyes. In 2014 it was Leopaard, in 2015 Huasong and in 2016 it’s Changjiang – translated into “Long River” on the logo. Strategically positioned in the SAIC exhibition hall, Changjiang is one of the first manufacturers you will see when you enter through the media entrance. Very clever, and enormous kudos for booking a full sized stand at the Show, exhibiting a range 100% electric whose e.Cool (pictured) has the highest sales potential. Originally a bus manufacturer, Changjiang also has a couple of them on its stand, making it look like the brand has been eating these Shows for breakfast. Behave like an adult and you will get taken seriously. Sure, the models aren’t the sexiest but a very impressive effort nonetheless.

Stay tuned for the next batch of brands, going from #20 to #11…

Changjiang e.Cool Pic1Changjiang e.Cool

Changjiang standChangjiang stand

Changjiang e.Cool Pic2Changjiang e.Cool

Beijing Auto Show 2016: The Ten Highlights

Dongfeng A9 Beijing 2016Dongfeng A9 at the Beijing Auto Show 2016

It’s finally here! Auto China 2016, the largest Auto Show in the world, alternates between Shanghai and Beijing and this year it’s the turn of the “Capital of the North” – as its name literally means in Mandarin – to host this gigantic event. As you all know, at BSCB we attach particular importance to the Chinese market due to its size, fast evolution and critical place on the world scene. A “Special China” section was even created in our new navigation tab earlier this year to put our entire Chinese coverage at your finger tips, and multiple monthly updates are published to keep you abreast of the latest developments in this fascinating market.

Announced at 220.000 square meters of exhibition space, Beijing 2016 is indeed the largest Auto Show in the world this year, but pales in comparison with Shanghai which still felt at least twice as big if not more. This year, as it has been the case for our Beijing 2014 and Shanghai 2015 coverages, we will start with the Highlights of the Show. We will then publish our much anticipated ranking of the most impressive Chinese carmakers will be unveiled, and I can already reveal that a lot of feathers have been ruffled atop the charts! You can refresh your memory before the big unveiling and check out our “Most Impressive” rankings at Beijing 2014 and Shanghai 2015. Finally I’ll pop in an exclusive interview with Laurens Van Den Acker, Senior Vice President of Corporate Design at Renault, a new player in the China-made scene.

These are the  Ten Highlights of the Beijing Auto Show 2016. If you only read one article about the Show, make it this one.

Chery Arrizo 7Chinese carmaker Chery impressed with the Tiggo 7.

1. No one can keep up with Chinese carmakers

After two years of frantic launches in all segments and prices, with hundreds of new nameplates hitting the local market, I came into Beijing with reserved expectations about Chinese carmakers. Surely they couldn’t keep up with the rhythm they have accustomed us to so far. This was underestimating them again… Out of the 50-odd world premieres the Show had to offer 35 were from Chinese carmakers, and 25 of them in the SUV segment. If most foreign manufacturers are starting to pant at the lightning speed at which the Chinese market is evolving, local players are nonplussed and continue to align relevant model after relevant model, adhering more closely each year to the very specific – and changing – needs of the Chinese customer.

Roewe RX5Roewe revealed the RX5 SUV…

The speed at which most Chinese brands are releasing new models is unprecedented in the history of automobile and their unabated focus on the SUV segment is another proof – if we needed one – that they are not ready to waste time and energy in segments that are losing momentum, such as sedans. Where foreigners persist in launching hatchbacks and 4-doors, hoping for a larger share of a shrinking pie, Chinese carmakers have their eyes on the prize and will bolster the SUV growth even further over the coming years with an ever-expanding list of offerings that are getting dangerously close to their Western competitors’ quality for an unbeatable price.

GAC Trumpchi GS8…and GAC the Trumpchi GS8

Brands that we thought had lost their shine of late came back with a vengeance (Chery, Roewe, Dongfeng, FAW, BAIC), others are building on astonishing SUV successes (GAC, Baojun, Changan, Leopaard, Zotye). Some came from literally nowhere (Borgward, Cowin, LeSee), others are going from low-cost to mass at lightning speed (Geely, Venucia) while seemingly condemned ones won’t go without a fight (Lifan). There were some naughty pupils such as Brilliance, BYD and – to a lesser extent – Haval and but all-in-all it is almost impossible to fault any Chinese brand this year for not trying hard enough.

FAW Hongqi sedan ConceptFAW Hongqi Sedan Concept

The Chinese car scene is evolving at a speed we have never witnessed before, and all cards seem to be redistributed at the start of each year, or each Auto Show. Where foreign manufacturers would ask for a break, Chinese ones hold their breath and fight even harder. As always, it is utterly exciting to see all this change happening so fast before our eyes and one of the reasons why we extend our coverage of Chinese manufacturers each year. Stay tuned for our Most Impressive ranking coming up soon…

LeEco LeSEELeEco LeSEE

2. Chinese Internet companies steal the Show

Aside from the mainstream Chinese brands we have grown familiar to and in line with the U.S. players that are disrupting their local industry such as Tesla, Apple and Google, the big novelty this year in Beijing was the thunderous unloading of large Internet players onto the Chinese automobile scene. LeEco, the Chinese Netflix, unveiled the concept for its self-anointed “Tesla beater”, the LeSEE, looking very impressive indeed but still very far from a production model.

Faraday FutureFaraday Future FF Zero1 

Also backed by LeEco, Faraday Future showed its outlandish FF Zero1 – a sort of futuristic one-seater Batmobile – that had its World Premiere earlier this year in Las Vegas. Jia Yueting, founder of LeEco, says that the car of tomorrow will be connected, electric, self-driving and… free! He considers the car as just a larger smartphone or tablet on wheels, another channel to sell content to his customers. Subsidising the car for a recurring content subscription the way Apple does with the iPhone starts to make total sense from this angle. LeEco isn’t the only Chinese tech to have invaded the auto world this year: Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are all making their way into it, with Alibaba recently partnering with giant SAIC. The Chinese car industry is not only evolving at breakneck speed, its borders with other tech industries are also blurring fast.

Ford F-150 Raptor2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

3. Ford finally officially launches its iconic F-150 Raptor in China

We at BSCB always try and approach the Auto Shows we visit with a specific sales angle. Gone very much under the radar in Beijing, the decision by Ford to officially launch the 2017 F-150 Raptor in China later this year is in fact a very symbolic one that warrants big headlines. If you have been following our Chinese Photo Reports of the past couple of years (see China 2014 Photo Reports and China 2015 Photo Reports), you will be familiar with the recurring theme of “One Ford F-150 Raptor and one Toyota Tundra in each city”. Indeed, in absolutely every Chinese city I have ever visited – big or small – I would without fault always spot at least one of each nameplate.

It would be mundane were it for the fact that neither is currently officially sold in China, they are privately imported from the U.S. and sold locally at an extortionate price. Yet the Chinese can’t seem to get enough of them, indicating a significant pent-up demand for this type of vehicles. It would appear Ford U.S. has been reading BSCB as they will start officially selling the 2017 Raptor here later this year, the fact that the Chinese government is in the process of cancelling laws preventing pickups from entering big cities probably also helping. This shows that Americans manufacturers are starting to get China very right indeed. GM had a new Buick LaCrosse in Beijing after unveiling the new Excelle GT and Verano in Guangzhou last November, Jeep introduced its China-made Renegade and distributed very sleek brochures celebrating its 75th anniversary and Lincoln also did extremely well as we’ll see further down. It’s not by chance that GM outsold VW in China for the first time in a decade in 2015. Also, where was the Toyota Tundra TRD on Toyota’s stand? Nowhere, you guessed it.

Renault KoleosRenault unveiled the All-new Koleos in Beijing

4. Renault makes a splash

Just one month after the Kadjar made its first appearance in the China-made sales charts, French manufacturer Renault went all guns blazing in Beijing with the World Premiere of the all-new Koleos. Renault kick-started its very first Chinese assembly plant in Wuhan earlier this year and is determined to not make the same mistakes its compatriot PSA Peugeot-Citroen made in this country, namely missing out big time on the SUV wave despite being installed in China for almost 25 years. The marketing budget Renault has unlocked for the Beijing Auto Show is impressive, with large Kadjar banners facing the subway exit into the Show and a gigantic digital screen spanning 200 meters across a large building in construction one block away from the Exhibition Center (see pictures below).

Renault KadjarRenault Kadjar at Beijing Auto Show 2016

Renault has carefully laid out its stand to ensure the connection with its Formula 1 success isn’t missed by any visitor. This connection has done wonders to position the French manufacturer upmarket in India, and Renault wants to replicate this situation for the Chinese market.

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

The choice of ambassador for the Renault Kadjar in China is also telling: where another French carmaker, DS, selfishly selected Gallic actress Sophie Marceau – unknown in China – Renault opted for Fan BingBing (X-Men, Iron Man 3), a huge superstar in her home country and able to bring the brand a lot closer to its Chinese audience.

Renault Kadjar Fan Bingbing Renault bannerRenault Kadjar banners featuring Fan Bingbing and giant digital advertising across the Show.

Citroen C6Citroen unveiled the All-new C6

Renault is spending big bucks to impose itself in the ultra-competitive Chinese market, and with 3 SUVs in its lineup (Koleos, Kadjar and Captur) it is playing its cards right to succeed at doing so. It better be, because the long-term annual sales target of 800.000 set by Carlos Ghosn in 2014 is an extremely ambitious one. In comparison, Peugeot, Citroen and DS completely missed the mark in Beijing this year. If in 2015 I was awestruck by the Peugeot CEO Maxime Picat delivering his entire speech in Mandarin, this year it seemed the speech was more or less the same and the accent was definitely French. The only ‘novelty’ Peugeot had to offer was a thinly facelifted 3008 while DS had nothing (the 4S hatch was launched in Guangzhou) and Citroen a C6 “Luxury sedan” that looks positively cheap from the outside.

Lincoln Stand 2Lincoln Stand 1The Lincoln Stand at the Beijing Auto Show 2016

5. Lincoln the most impressive stand

Another proof that Americans are getting China very right, Lincoln’s presence at the Show was by far the most sophisticated, aspiring and in touch with the Chinese customer. The layout of the stand, the innovative welcome desk (see above), the hostesses, the lineup (compact SUVs and large sedans), the personal hosts guiding potential customers through the models and the stand, the waterfall, the ‘hidden’ VIP section featuring all the materials used in the cars as well as a new Continental more accessible to explore, the mix of modernity and heritage with a vintage Continental exhibited… Everything, everyone and everywhere is on-brand, on-point, on-target. “Impeccable Craftsmanship” it was. Bravo.

Lincoln Stand 3 Lincoln Stand 4Lincoln heritage and waterfall

Acura CDXAcura CDX and NSX

6. Acura the latest local producer

After Renault with the Kadjar in March and Jaguar with the XFL in April, Acura is the third worldwide OEM to enter the China-made arena in 2016 with the very China-adequate CDX compact SUV. The stand smartly connected it with the brand’s flagship, the NSX, and although not particularly striking, it falls right into the bullseye of luxury SUVs with its sights firmly set on the Lexus NX and the upcoming Infiniti QX30. Infiniti manufactures the Q50L sedan and the QX60 SUV locally since 2015, so among Japanese luxury brands it leaves just Lexus as pure importer in China. Toyota has no plans to start assembling Lexus locally in the near future though.

Hyundai VernaHyundai unveiled the new generation Verna at the Show

7. The Koreans still as hungry as ever

Just as the Elantra Lingdong launched in market in March, Hyundai hasn’t wasted any time renewing another best-seller, the Verna (aka Accent) with a new generation unveiled at the Show as a World Premiere – a clear sign of how critical the Chinese market is for the Korean manufacturer. The Hyundai stand had a separate area for new luxury brand Genesis with the G90 and G80 exhibited and a smooth, silky ambience in the refined corner and hostesses were eagerly distributing the Hyundai Premium D magazine. Kia had a refreshed K3 and a facelifted K4 among other novelties: it appears Korean manufacturers are the only ones able to keep up with the frenetic launch rhythm set by Chinese carmakers at home…

Kia K3Kia K3 Toyota ViosA facelifted Vios is pretty much all the new material Toyota had to offer at the Show

8. …while Toyota is asleep at the wheel…

If Ford smartly launched the F-150 Raptor (in the absence of any other novelties), the Tundra TRD was nowhere to be seen on the Toyota stand. Last year in Shanghai, the focus of Toyota was on its new Corolla and Levin Hybrid. This year in Beijing, the focus of Toyota is on… its Corolla and Levin Hybrid. Passable in a European or American Show but unacceptable in China. In a market flooded with dozens of new SUVs each year (month), Toyota did not even exhibit the new CH-R it unveiled in Geneva last March. It will sell like hot dumplings in China and would propel the Toyota brand to the top of the shopping list of many local consumers, yet this seemed to have escaped Toyota’s management. And the feebly facelifted Vios and Yaris L shown will not do.

VW Phideon

9. …and Volkswagen wants to go premium

Embattled in its emissions scandal, Volkswagen has made one thing clear: its necessary budget cuts will not affect China in the least. Its stand at Beijing smelled very premium indeed, with only the upmaket variants of each nameplate exhibited, a lot of space made for the all-new Phideon (unveiled in Geneva) and yet another large SUV concept (the T-Prime) when what the brand needs since 2010 is one or four compact SUVs. A facelifted Bora also pointed its bonnet, but this is not a World Premiere as I have already spotted one on the steers of Beijing.

VW T-Prime Concept

If Volkswagen definitely did not behave like the market leader it is in Beijing, premium Germans also showed a definitive step back compared to their performance a year ago in Shanghai. BMW had a new long-wheeled X1 to show and Mercedes the new E-Class L but Audi had nothing really new. We have time for Mercedes who has been on a launching frenzy in the past two years, especially in the SUV segment the Chinese consumers can’t get enough of, but the other two carmakers have certainly not made the most of the opportunities that the Beijing Auto Show had to offer this year.

Cowin X3 Beijing 2016Cowin X5 conceptCowin X5 and X3 Concept

10. Borgward, Cowin and Changhe among Chinese surprises

A Chinese Auto Show wouldn’t be the same if there weren’t any big, very big surprises such as completely new brands coming out of nowhere or carmakers resuscitated from the dead. And Beijing didn’t disappoint in this area.  Literally just a logo a year ago, Borgward relaunched in Frankfurt last September (bad idea) but now that it is back on its backer’s territory (Foton/BAIC), it suddenly came up with a full stand complete with a 3-model lineup!

Borgward BX5Borgward BX5

Cowin, a “young and connected” spinoff brand from Chery, had nothing to be ashamed of against most other Chinese established brands, SAIC launched a new all-electric brand/lineup and Changhe came back from the dead with two very satisfying offers. But there was more, much more, and we will cover every single Chinese carmaker present at the Beijing Auto Show 2016 is our “Most Impressive” ranking, coming up shortly. Stay tuned!

Mexico March 2016: Nissan Versa tops 15th consecutive record month

Nissan Versa Mexico January 2016The Nissan Versa confirms it is now Mexico’s most popular nameplate.

* See the Top 40 All-brands and Top 225 All-models by clicking on the title *

The Mexican new car market posts an incredible 15th consecutive record month in March with sales up a cool 11% year-on-year to 116.870 units, an all-time high for the month. Year-to-date volumes are up 13% to a record 347.347 units after three months. At this rate, Mexico will cross the symbolic 1.5 million annual registrations for the very first time by the end of 2016, an additional 150.000 units on 2015, the current record at 1.35m sales. Although slightly underperforming at +8% in March and +11% in 2016, Nissan remains by far the most popular brand in the country with 26.5% share this month, distancing Chevrolet at 17.1% (+4%) and Volkswagen at 13.9% (+13%). Toyota (+22%) overtakes Ford (-8%) for the overall 4th spot with Honda (+14%) and Mazda (-8%) in tow.

Nissan Pickup Mexico November 2015. Picture courtesy autocosmos.com.mxThe Nissan Pickup ranks #2 in March. Picture autocosmos.com.mx

Kia confirms it is more successful than sister brand Hyundai, lifting its personal best further to 3.381 sales and 2.9% share only eight months after it launched in the country. Coincidentally, Hyundai also beats its monthly volume record in March at 2.747 and 2.4%, up 60% year-on-year. Notice also Renault (+36%), Ram (+56%), Mercedes (+24%), GMC (+28%), Buick (+46%) and Volvo (+32%) all frankly outperforming the market.

Chevrolet S10 Mexico March 2016Four years after Brazil, the Chevrolet S-10 has launched in Mexico to great success. 

Model-wise, the Nissan Versa cements its newfound leadership of the Mexican market thanks to sales up a splendid 53% to 7.194 units, distancing another Nissan, the Pickup – the commercial variant of the Frontier – despite sales down 5% to 5.145. The Chevrolet Spark (+21%) steps onto the podium for the very first time in Mexico, progressively replacing the Aveo (-32% to #7) as the brand’s best-seller here. The VW Vento (-6%) and Jetta (+53%) roundup the Top 5 with the Chevrolet Sonic (+65%) posting a second consecutive month inside the Top 10.

Toyota Hilux Mexico March 2016. Picture courtesy autocosmos.com.mxToyota Hilux sales are up 50% in Mexico thanks to the new model. 

Among recent launches, the Chevrolet S-10 (the world Colorado) imported from Brazil albeit with a 4 year-delay shoots up to #14 with 1.700 sales, becoming an instant blockbuster and the 2nd best-selling pickup in Mexico, just above the Nissan Frontier (+60%), Chevrolet Silverado (+28%) and Toyota Hilux, boosted up 50% by the new generation. The Honda HR-V (#19) is now the brand’s best-seller, the Chevrolet Equinox is up to #24, Kia Rio up to #33 and the Hyundai Tucson up to #35.

Previous month: Mexico February 2016: Nissan Versa sails off in market up 13.5%

One year ago (1): Mexico March 2015: Top 222 All-models and All-brands available

One year ago (2): Mexico March 2015: VW Vento up to 2nd place in market up 22%

Full March 2016 Top 40 All-brands and Top 225 All-models below.

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World 1st Quarter 2016: Volkswagen back above Toyota despite scandal

Cracked-Volkswagen-logo. Picture courtesy autotribute.comNot so broken after all: Volkswagen Group 

The much talked-about emissions scandal that has been plaguing Volkswagen since last September prevented it to claim its very first worldwide sales crown in 2015, ending the year at 9.9 million sales vs. 10.15 for Toyota and 9.8 for General Motors. But First Quarter 2016 results show that the VW crowning may have just been delayed by one year despite the on-going scandal. Thanks to strong demand in China and Western Europe, the Volkswagen Group sees its Q1 sales improve by 0.8% to 2.51 million units. In contrast, Toyota has been hit by a series of production disruptions including earthquakes and an explosion at an affiliate factory which means ther worldwide volumes are down 2.3% to 2.46 million vehicles. In third place, General Motors also declines despite very strong results in China, at -2.5% to 2.36 million units.

Toyota CH-R World 2016Toyota needs to launch the C-HR fast if it wants to retain the worldwide crown in 2016. 

This is the illustration of how limited the effect of the scandal has been on VW’s worldwide sales, beyond the mechanical effect of stop-sale orders such as in the U.S. Month after month, market after market we at BSCB have studied in detail the potential sales effect of Volkswagen’s emission scandal as taking the pulse of the auto industry is what we pride ourselves with. It has now been over six months since it came to the world’s knowledge that the company had rigged 11 millions of its vehicles with emissions-cheating devices, and our extensive research across the world has shown that a large majority of markets has responded with either slightly sub-par growth levels such as in Europe, or indifference such as in China where almost no model is affected by the cheating devices.

VW TDI rangeVolkswagen’s TDI range is the one mainly affected by the cheating devices.

In select markets the sales effect has been drastic such as in Japan where the Volkswagen brand plunged by as much as 48% last October and has been toppled from the #1 foreign brand throne by Mercedes, and South Korea where VW sales are still down 25% in March. It is to be noted that these markets do not have a large amount of vehicles affected by the rigging device and recalls will be low. By and large, the amount of vehicles affected isn’t in correlation with the drop in sales, indicating that consumers are not overly worried with the technical implications of the emissions scandal. Instead, it’s the overall trust towards the brand that is dented in the markets that have penalised VW. Volkswagen has also particularly suffered in the U.S. with declines larger than the diesel models stop-sale orders should have triggered, but the brand’s position there was already precarious way before the scandal broke. In Germany, customers have rallied behind the brand to limit its decline to 4% so far in 2016 in a market up 4.5%.

Audi A4 Germany March 2016. Picture courtesy autobild.deAudi sales haven’t been affected by the scandal at all…

Interestingly, it is the Volkswagen brand that has been mainly affected by the scandal, in case there was a visible effect at all. Audi, Porsche, Seat and Skoda, although also involved with cheating devices, have for the most part seen no detrimental sales effect at all (except once again in Japan for Audi). Speaking with many VW Group car owners, BSCB has found that because this device does not pose a life-threatening situation, current vehicle owners do not see the cheat as overly significant, and it doesn’t alter in any notable way their relationship with Volkswagen. This is very important in the long term as VW is working hard to regain the trust they have lost during the past 6 months. In fact, the more dangerous situation coming up for the manufacturer now is the lingering of the scandal and its continuous presence in the press. Even though the population tends to not completely understand what VW has done wrong, a months or years-long litany of negative press will definitely have an impact on the brand image. And VW has not been particularly fast nor cooperative in resolving the crisis in the briefest delays.

Porsche Cayenne Macan China September 2015…neither have Porsche sales.

The biggest threat Volkswagen is facing is therefore, in our view, not so much the potentially changed perception of the brand by general consumers, but more so the cost of innumerable law suits launched by various governments around the world. By cheating on emissions levels, Volkswagen has committed what is seen in some legislations as a criminal act linked to tax evasion. If you are a regular BSCB reader, you will know that in some countries – such as the Netherlands until last year – the purchase of an eco-friendly car triggers very significant government subsidies that can go as far as reducing the amount of tax a car buyer is paying over the five years following the purchase of a car. This means that dozens of governments around the world have paid Volkswagen extremely large sums of money on the basis of specific emissions figures. Righting this wrong is what is currently endangering Volkswagen: the company lodged a $4.6 billion loss recently solely on the basis of the scandal, and has had to slash its R&D spending in most worldwide markets except China.

Baojun 560 China July 2015bVW (still) plans to launch a brand to compete with GM’s Baojun in China. 

As a result, the world map is now much clearer for the Volkswagen Group: the emissions scandal may result in less new models outside China which will handicap the Group in the long term but also an even stronger focus on the Chinese market to retain its dominant and very profitable position there. VW Group recently announced a very ambitious plan for China: the introduction of 10 SUVs and crossovers and 15 EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2020. Volkswagen will also reportedly create a brand to fight GM’s Baojun in the Chinese rural market from 2018 onwards. This low-cost brand has been in the making for quite some time though and most analysts including myself are getting rather impatient. Also, judging by the lack of truly significant new models Volkswagen exhibited at this week’s Beijing Auto Show, these grand plans are all talk for now. More on this in our Beijing coverage shortly.

Mercedes GLC Japan March 2016. Picture coutesy autoc-one.jpBut Mercedes is heading towards the worldwide luxury crown in 2016. 

In the luxury segment, although not really affected by the scandal Audi is gaining less ground worldwide than its two main competitors BMW and Mercedes. Over the First Quarter, Audi sales are up 4% to 455.750 vs. 478.743 for BMW (+6%) and 483.487 for Mercedes (+13%).  Mercedes has declared it wants to overtake BMW by 2020, a goal it may hit early due to the popularity of all-new models including the GLC SUV, said Automotive News Europe. However March results showed BMW in the lead: the Munich-based brand topped the 200.000 mark in a single month for the first time in its history at 201.352 units (+3%), distancing Mercedes at 198.921 (+8%) and Audi at 186.100 (+4%). This result was achieved thanks to particularly string sales of the 2 Series (+56% in Q1 to 43.657) and X1 (+68% to 51.002) while the 7 Series flagship was up 20% to 10.588 thanks to the new model.

Tesla Model 3: Why it changes everything

Tesla Model 3The Tesla Model 3 has already changed the automobile industry.

Almost a month ago on March 31, Tesla unveiled the much hyped Model 3, an all-electric four-door compact sedan that will slot well below the Model S and X in the manufacturer’s lineup. It will be priced from US$35.000 up with an autonomy of 200 miles and is the first realistically affordable car Tesla is launching, in essence the ‘make or break’ car for Tesla which relies on its mass volume of sales to become a sustainable car company. The pre-order figures it generated surprised all worldwide analysts included myself.Time survey before the unveiling showed that conventional wisdom was on 55.000 pre-orders in the first 72 hours. Instead, the Model 3 reached that figure in a couple of hours, hitting 180.000 pre-orders in 24 hours, 276.000 in 48 hours, 325.000 in 72 hours and over 400.000 by now, representing potential sales of over US$14 billion.

Model 3 orders. Picture courtesy Business InsiderTesla Model 3 pre-orders as of April 2 vs. cumulative Tesla sales to-date.

These pre-orders are US$1.000 refundable deposits, so they don’t equate to fully purchased cars, merely an “expression of interest”. Still, it makes the Model 3 the most pre-ordered vehicle in the history of automobile and the fastest one to reach 400.000, by far. Precedent record-holders would typically peak at 100.000 in the first month with much smaller deposits, such as the Dacia Logan during its launch in Iran a little less than a decade ago. Needless to say this is also a record for an all-electric car. All-time sales of highway capable plug-in electric cars since 1890 stand at 1 million units: the Model 3 has reached almost half this in less than a month. The electric car sales record holder is the Nissan Leaf (200.000) with the Chevrolet Volt in third (106.000). In second place, Tesla has sold roughly 120.000 Model S since launch, so Model 3 orders equate almost four times that.

Tesla-3-interior-image-2Model 3 interior

In order to honour these sales, Tesla will essentially need to become a different car company altogether. Until now a disruptive niche player, it has been valued like a tech company. At roughly US$33 billion, its market capitalisation has nothing to be ashamed of compared to behemoths Ford ($51b) and General Motors ($46b), which each sell in two days what Tesla sell in one year… As for Fiat Chrysler FCA it could actually be absorbed by Tesla, valued at “just” $10 billion. Yet Tesla has never made a profit. Even if Model 3 sales will likely be spread across two to three years, it would put Tesla at a worldwide sales level comparable to Acura (205.000 sales in 2015), Infiniti (215.000) or Porsche (225.000) and looking at American brands, well above Lincoln (120.000) and potentially teasing Cadillac (278.000). In other words, among well established luxury brands.

Tesla Model 3 Picture 2The Model 3 unveiling was streamed live on the Tesla website. 

Tesla will need to drastically ramp up its production but the company’s track record has shown this may be an issue. With initial production and deliveries announced for the end of 2017, such high pre-order figures mean people who ordered their vehicles in the past month could be waiting until 2020 to get it. That’s when refund figures could potentially start to soar. In April Tesla announced they missed their target for first quarter 2016 results at 14.000 sales vs. 16.000 because of “how much technology” they put in the Model X SUV. If Tesla struggled to deliver 16.000 vehicles because of technological hiccups, it’s hard to imagine how they can possibly spit out 400.000 units of an equally highly innovative car. Tesla will need to completely change the way they operate to achieve this, and do it fast.

Tesla Model 3 Picture 3Tesla Model 3

But before any Model 3 is delivered to happy customers, the mere fact that it reached record levels of pre-orders is an extremely significant milestone in the history of automobile and its potential shift towards electric vehicles. Until now, the hot spots for alternative fuel vehicles – the high volumes being mainly hybrids and mainly sold by Toyota – have been locations where their success is almost entirely spurred by government measures that make is advantageous to buy an eco-friendly car: Japan, California and Norway. Until now consumers have not purchased electric or hybrid cars because they wanted to but by and large because they were pushed to. The Model 3 changes this.

Tesla line AustraliaTesla customers line up to pre-order a Model 3 in Sydney, Australia 

Before the Model 3 unveiling on March 31, people were camping outside of Tesla dealerships to earn the right to pre-order it for $1.000 once the booking was open. Some had been lining up two or three days in advance. This is a pent-up demand frenzy that is normally reserved to new Apple products which don’t even compare in price. Also extremely significant is the fact that Tesla doesn’t spend any money on marketing. So Elon Musk has managed to create an incredible amount of desirability for an electric car, something that no manufacturer had managed to achieve before.

Chevrolet BoltChevrolet Bolt

This shows us for the first time in the history of automobile that there is a real demand for a cool electric car. Even if the Model 3 get scrapped for lack of funds (worst case scenario), it will act as a trigger for the largest manufacturers in the world such as Volkswagen, General Motors or even Toyota to start thinking about offering an affordable electric car in their lineup. GM is already on its way with the Bolt, a $30.000 all-electric compact hatch with a 200 mile range that should hit US dealerships before the end of 2016.

Singapore First Quarter 2016: Honda Vezel ‘unofficial’ best-seller

Honda Vezel Singapore March 2016The Japan-made Honda Vezel is the best-selling new vehicle in Singapore this year. 

Thanks to BSCB reader Richard Hsu we can share with you today exclusive models data for Singapore, unveiling a very peculiar situation. As our March 2016 report showed, Honda is challenging Toyota’s years-long domination of the Singaporean market this year with 4.012 sales so far in 2016 vs. 4.165 and even snapped the #1 spot in March (see Singapore March 2016: Honda overtakes Toyota). It turns out this newfound strength has everything to do with the parallel imports (PI) of Japan-made Honda Vezel. LTA sales figures indeed include both official channels and PIs, and if official channels show the Toyota Corolla in the lead so far this year with 1.380 sales, the ‘unofficially imported’ Honda Vezel actually adds up to a much more impressive 2.344 according to local publication The Business Times. The Mazda3 (754) and Nissan Qashqai (724) are also strong sellers as are the Nissan Sylphy and Toyota Wish. The Mercedes C-Class and E-Class rank 7th and 8th respectively.

Business Times Singapore

Europe March 2016: Opel Astra and Fiat 500 shine in Top 10

Opel Astra Europe March 2016The new generation pushes the Opel Astra up 30% year-to-date in Europe. 

* See the Top 10 best-selling brands and Top 20 models by clicking on the title *

March sales data in Europe is always biased by a bumper month in the UK where the bi-annual license-plate change traditionally boosts the market. This year, with 518.707 registrations, the UK accounts for 29.7% of all European sales vs. 18.5% on average. Europe posts a 31st consecutive month of year-on-year gains in March with registrations up 6% to 1.745.495 units, lifting the Q1 total up a solid 8% to 3.934.569. Among the 29 countries composing the European market, Serbia (+34%), Portugal (+32%), Cyprus (+31%), Lithuania (+28%), Latvia (+26%) and Romania (+23%) are the most dynamic whereas Germany (-0.04%), Spain (-1%), Norway (-2%), Greece (-3%), Denmark (-4%) and Switzerland (-9%) are the only ones losing ground. Three of the Big Five are in positive: the UK (+6%), France (+7%) and Italy (+18%).

Fiat 500 Europe March 2016. Picture courtesy largus.frThe Fiat 500 benefits from a very strong performance in the UK this month.

Brand-wise, Volkswagen continues to clearly underperform: the only brand in the Top 10 losing volume  year-on-year (-2%) along with Nissan (-4%). More worryingly, VW drops one percentage point market share compared to a year ago over Q1 2016, going from 12% to 11% and a particularly low 10.3% in March, its lowest since last September when the emissions scandal broke. Yet Volkswagen remains by far Europe’s favourite brand, topping the sales charts in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Switzerland. Below Ford stable at #2, Opel (+7%) and Renault (+11%) outperform the market but Peugeot is shy at +2%.

BMW 2er Gran Tourer Europe March 2016. Picture courtesy autobild.deThe 2 Series Active/Gran Tourer enables BMW to tease Audi for the #1 luxury spot this month.

After outselling Audi in the luxury race last year in August, September, November and December, BMW misses out on doing just that again this month by just 51 units. Thanks to the outstanding success of its 2 Series Active/Gran Tourer, BMW sees its volumes leap 16% to 94.819, just below Audi at 94.875 (+8%). Mercedes is up 9% to 90.704. Rounding up the Top 10, Fiat (+13%) is in great shape but Nissan (-4%) disappoints. In the models ranking, the Top 7 best-sellers all post muted scores: not only do they all lose market share vs. a year ago, they also drop volumes all in unison: the VW Golf (-0.2%) and Polo (-0.1%) are the strongest while the Ford Fiesta and Opel Corsa (-11% each) suffer the most. The Nissan Qashqai (-2%), Renault Clio (-5%) and Ford Focus (-5%) haven’t taken advantage of strong scores in their respective lead countries, the UK and France.

Renault Kadjar Nissan Qashqai Europe March 2016. Picture courtesy largus.frThe Kadjar helps Renault gain 11% year-on-year in March. 

In contrast, the Fiat 500 makes a rare appearance inside the European Top 10 thanks to a strong performance in the UK with 25.794 sales across the continent (+12%). It is only the 4th time ever this generation of 500, launched in 2007, manages to rank among Europe’s ten favourites after March 2014, June 2014 and September 2014 (see also Europe March 2014: Fiat 500 inside Top 10 for the first time). Re-energised by a much awaited new generation, the Opel Astra is up 18% to #9 and up 30% year-to-date to #8, now back to a more familiar #2 ranking in its category across the continent (far) below just the Golf at 61.478 sales vs. 130.367. Notice also the Skoda Octavia (+8%), Peugeot 308 (+6%), Fiat Panda (+6%) and Peugeot 2008 (+14%).

Previous post: Europe February 2016: Discover the Top 335 models and All-brands

Previous month: Europe February 2016: 30th consecutive month of year-on-year gains

One year ago: Europe March 2015: Relief as continent-wide sales jump 11%

Full March 2016 Top 10 brands and Top 20 models below.

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South Africa March 2016: Toyota Hilux reclaims top spot

Toyota Hilux South Africa March 2016Toyota Hilux

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The South African new vehicle market steps on the brakes in March with sales down a harsh 14% to just 47.631 units, pulling the year-to-date total down 10% to 144.352 units. Exports also suffer at -19% in March and -13% in Q1. Passenger cars are down 13% to 30.702 while light commercial vehicles are down 14% to 14.507. Toyota keeps the lead manufacturer-wise despite falling faster than the market at -21%, it distances the Volkswagen Group (-12%), Ford (-1%), Hyundai-Kia (-11%) and Nissan (-14%). GM/Isuzu suffers at -35%, BMW Group is stable while Renault (+34%), Mazda (+32%) and Jaguar Land Rover (+45%) go against the grain and post significant improvements.

Toyota Quantum South Africa March 2016Toyota Quantum

Model-wise, thanks to the new generation now finding its way across the country, the Toyota Hilux reclaims the pole position it held over the FY2015 with 3.273 sales and 6.9% and despite sales down 10%. It distances its archenemy the Ford Ranger at 3.004 units (-3%). The VW Polo Vivo still holds the year-to-date lead though at 8.379 deliveries vs. 8.306 for the Hilux and 8.122 for the Ranger. The Toyota Quantum more than doubles its sales year-on-year to shoot up to 5th place overall (1.369) with the Ford Figo at #8 (+27%) and the Renault Sandero at #17 (+60%) also displaying very strong gains.

This ranking includes rare data for Hyundai, Kia, Great Wall and Mercedes previously unpublished online.

Previous post: South Africa January-February 2016 with All-models rankings

One year ago: South Africa March 2015: Nissan NP200 and Ford Ecosport strong

Full March 2016 Top 33 manufacturers and Top 265 All-models below.

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China LCV March 2016: Mini Trucks shoot up 31% led by Wuling

Wuling Mini Truck China March 2016The Wuling Minitruck (+39%) illustrates a strong sales transfer from microvans to micro pickups.

* See the Top 55 best-selling models by clicking on the title *

As part of a partnership with Chinese consultancy Cedars, we can share with you detailed data for the March light commercial vehicle market in China with complete Minivan, Pickup and Mini Truck data by model as well as selected light truck/bus data provided by LMC Automotive. Minivans somehow slow down their freefall in March at ‘just’ -25% to 70.876 units, pulling the year-to-date total down 34% to 173.907. In contrast, illustrating the micro-van to micro-pickup trend currently at play in China, the Mini Truck segment (=micro pickups) performs brilliantly this month at +31% to 48.103 units and +18% year-to-date at 120.033. One-tonne pickups slow their fall down further at just -2% in February (33.775) vs. -9% so far in 2016 (81.467), potentially the result of a much anticipated change in legislation allowing pickup trucks in the large cities of four provinces for the first time in 12 years (see our February China LCV report for more detail).

Wuling Sunshine S China March 2016Wuling Sunshine lineup China March 2016Wuling Sunshine S (up) and Sunshine lineup (down)

The Foton Light Truck (grouping all pickups sold under the Forland brand) takes the year-to-date lead thanks to 31.647 sales in March and despite a 10% year-on-year drop, but it’s below that the movements are more interesting the Wuling Mini Truck is up a flamboyant 39% year-on-year to 31.700 units, contrasting with the Hongguang V already sinking 43% and the Rongguang down 21% (the latter two being microvans). The only microvan to somewhat resist the hecatomb is the Sunshine (-9%), due to the launch in H2 2015 of a facelifted variant baptised “S” as is now the norm at Wuling. Further down, the JMC Light Truck (+11%), Chana Star Mini Truck (+26%) and Dongfeng K-Series Mini Truck (+56%) also post strong results, as does the Great Wall Wingle 6 (+74%).

Previous post: China LCV January-February 2016: Pickups about to bounce back?

One year ago: China LCV March 2015: Wuling Hongguang V cracks 30.000 sales

Full March 2016 Top 55 models Ranking Table below.

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