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Trans-Siberian Railway 2013: Beijing, China Photo Report

1 Buick GL8The Buick GL8 is everywhere in Beijing!

* See the Full Photo Report by clicking on the title! *

This is Part 21 of my Trans-Siberian Photo Report. You can see all other Parts of this long-term Report here. When I said it was a big shock to go from one week in the Gobi desert in Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar, this was absolutely nothing compared to my arrival in Beijing! Granted, I cheated on this part of the trip and flew between the two capital cities. But I rather spend 1h30 in the plane and one more day in Beijing than 30 hours in the train! I hope you will understand and forgive me for this… Well as soon as I landed in Beijing I literally felt like a toddler in a sandpit. Nearly all cars I could see were new to me in the flesh. It’s one thing to report on the best-sellers in China every month for 10 years, it’s another to see all vehicles around you… My last (and only other) time in Beijing was in 2002, and all I can remember was FAW Xiali/Charade and VW Jettas. How things have changed…

2 Jinbei GranseThe Jinbei Granse is by far the most popular minibus in Beijing.

The first striking element in the Beijing car park is the frequency of Volkswagens and Audis, literally everywhere. I know I should have expected this based on national sales figures but once again it’s something else to see it with your own eyes. Even though China sales vehicles have been multiplied by ten since the last time I was here (!), you can still see a lot of people not owing a car and a lot of them take the taxi. There is a well-oiled (?) process at play here: when locals see a free taxi they run towards it as if their lives depended on it regardless of how many other people were there before them, waiting for one. This leaves tourists like me a little befuddled, especially when 10 people have jumped ahead of me, leaving me still taxi-less after 45 minutes… Anyhow, most taxis in Beijing are the locally (as in Beijing) produced Hyundai Elantra from two generations ago.

3 Hyundai Elantra taxiBeijing Taxi fleets continue to buy the Hyundai Elantra from two generations ago.

This Elantra is still sold as new in China, and this was the opportunity for me to learn that most basic models and older generations still in production are solely for taxi fleets. The second most popular taxi in Beijing is the VW Jetta. Now that the new generation has started production, VW executives are still juggling with the idea of keeping the old generation alive in order not to give up that market share to Hyundai. Same situation for Citroen, whose 15 year-old C-Elysee has just been replaced this month. Now I actually totally understand the decision of Citroen to launch the DS range as a separate brand: it is extremely difficult to sell the Citroen marque as a premium one when you have 15 years worth of very basic taxi models still swarming the streets…

4 Buick LaCrosseOne of many Buick LaCrosse I spotted in Beijing

Second very striking element of the Beijing car park: the huge success of Buick. It is indeed very startling to see so many Buicks in the streets of any country, let alone the biggest car market in the world, as the brand is virtually absent anywhere else except the States where it is much less successful than China. Seeing that many here prompted me to think that in a not-too-distant future the Buick brand could well only exist in China… Two models are omnipresent in the capital: the new generation GL8, absolutely and positively everywhere which is a big surprise given its relatively modest ranking in the national sales charts (#70 in September including sales of the old gen), and the LaCrosse here again way more frequent than its national ranking would let you believe (#46 in September).

5 Beijing E SeriesThe Beijing Auto E-Series is very popular in.. well Beijing.

Travelling to Beijing was also the opportunity to try and spot the particularities of the car park in the region, given no detailed sales data by province let alone city is available yet for China. I had anticipated that carmakers based in Beijing would get the favours of consumers. When meeting with Tycho de Feijter, founder of the site Car News China, I learnt that nothing was further from the truth. However cars produced in other provinces end up being more expensive in Beijing as their price takes into account a tax charged when entering a new province. As a result Beijing-produced cars do tend to be more successful in Beijing, but for price reasons, not emotional ones… This trend is best illustrated by the very high amount of Beijing Auto E-Series and Sedona I spotted in the capital city, at odds with their still discreet national rankings (respectively #81 and #201 in September).

6 Roewe 550Roewe 550

Other models I was surprised to see very often in Beijing include the Nissan Sunny, Roewe 550 and VW Bora, but reversely I saw very few Ford Focus, a very different picture that the one painted by the 2013 national sales charts. Sales figures for LCVs are also patchy for China, and I was glad to be able to observe that market with my own eyes. The Jinbei Granse is extremely successful, potentially in the Top 3 or 5 overall in Beijing, with its twin the Foton View also very popular. Minivans like the Wuling Sunshine are relatively rare in cities as Tycho explained to me, but a short trip to the Great Wall of China in Badaling confirmed the situation changes as soon as you leave the big metropolis (a dedicated Photo Report on the Great Wall will be uploaded shortly).

7 Brilliance H230Brilliance H230

The other extremely interesting element I was able to observe in Beijing is which imported cars are the most successful. As you know import data is virtually non-existent for China (hopefully not for too long), so I was curious to discover the most popular ones. Land Rover has been met with a warm welcome in Beijing, with many Range Rover Evoque and one new generation Range Rover spotted. I can understand why Jeep will return to local production as the previous generation Cherokee is still very frequent in Beijing streets: the new range will sell like hot dumplings here…

8 Range RoverNew generation Range Rover

The Toyota Alphard was another surprise success in Beijing, to such an extent that Toyota is reportedly thinking of kick starting local production for this model. A few Jaguar XF caught my eye, as well as solid numbers of Renault Koleos (in any case more than in Paris!), whereas Infiniti and Acura are still a little discreet for now.

9 Infinti MInfiniti M

Needless to say that all Chinese models I saw in Beijing I did so for the very first time and I have to say my Chinese brand logo recognition skills were definitely put to the test…

10 Toyota Corolla EXFacelifted Toyota Corolla EX

And I had a few surprises like discovering this facelifted Toyota Corolla EX above, I had no idea this model enjoyed a China-exclusive cleanup of its front earlier this year…

Full Photo Report below.

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