And the winner is… Haval, Great Wall’s SUV brand. This is Part 9 of my coverage of the Beijing Auto Show, check out also Part 1- First impressions, Part 2 – Most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26, Part 3: Most impressive #25 to #21, Part 4: Most impressive #20 to #16, Part 5: Most impressive #15 to #11, Part 6: A Voyage through Beijing hutongs, Part 7: Most impressive #10 to #6 and Part 8: Most impressive #5 to #2.
One of the main questions I hoped to answer by coming to the Beijing Auto Show was why on earth did Great Wall, steadily improving its brand recognition worldwide, decide to make Haval a stand-alone brand in China last year. One look at their stand and I knew why: Haval has developed a cachet and SUV single-mindedness that Great Wall can never hope to achieve at home. So perhaps it was a good decision after all, at least for China. It may be harder to impose the Haval brand worldwide however.
Haval ranks #1 in my most impressive list because it did everything right at the Show, starting with the huge stance Great Wall took by NOT exhibiting any Great Wall models. Keeping the company’s presence to Haval with one big, beautiful, kick-arse stand, black colour scheme and hidden projectors so your photos look amazing from any angle. It would be a bit like Citroen only exhibiting DS models at the Paris Auto Show! It makes sense when your aim is to establish an up-market brand, but the amount of internal politics that must have had to be overcome to arrive at this decision is dizzying. This already makes Great Wall the Show’s ballsiest Chinese carmaker.
Every time I stepped out of a Haval model, staff would thank me and close the door behind me. Yep, that’s the kind of treatment NO other manufacturer offered at any Auto Show I went to – even the most premium German or Italian brands. The brochures gladly dispensed by the discreetly smiley staff are the best in the entire Show: thick, sharp, playing with a mix of matte and shiny colours and keeping the Haval logo small everywhere with the apt slogan “The No.1 SUV brand in China”.
There is even a 30-page catalogue detailing Haval’s Dakar Rally prowess across the 5 years it has been participating in it. Along with it came the Dakar Rally Racecar exhibited in a devoted section of the Haval stand next to a Rally paraphernalia window display, adding another dynamic, reliable and premium feel to the SUV brand. A strong presence (I was unaware of until the Show) in the world’s toughest Rally for China’s No.1 SUV brand: it all makes perfect sense.
Stepping onto the Haval stand, I was looking forward to discovering the recently launched H6 Sport and the new H8 now on-track for an upcoming China launch in the next few months. What I got was an unexpected avalanche of very good-looking all-new models and concepts, all linked by a very recognisable family air without falling into the cloning trap. The Coupe Concept took centre stage and was bloody impressive indeed…
…but I was most impressed by the two production-ready all-new models. The H2 looked great from every angle which is a challenge for a small SUV, and added a touch of sport with the Haval logo inserted next to the back side windows. The new flagship H9 looked reassuringly imposing and solid, with just enough chrome to make it look like a premium SUV but not a delirious over-designed attempt at playing with the big boys. The only negative aspect to point out is the cars’ interiors, better than most Chinese brands but not as impressive as the rest of the stand.
All-in-all I think what stoke me the most with Haval was the quietly enthusiastic, understated confidence that the brand gave off. Haval was miles ahead of any other Chinese brand at the Beijing Auto Show in this regard, and in fact in every other aspect except interiors where it was just (but still) ahead. Everything they did sounded and looked right: not too keen, not too serious, not too aloof. Haval, don’t change anything because you are doing it right.
More photos below.