After exploring the extraordinary pick-up landscape in Kashgar, some 3.400km away from Beijing in South-Western China, we now go into its overall car landscape. In Chinese classification, we have gone from first-tier city (Beijing), 2nd-tier (Chongqing), 3rd-tier (Ürümqi) and now with Kashgar we are at county-level. Although there is now way we can generalise the observations I made in each city to the whole of the country, its gives us a slice of what the Chinese car market looks like as we get into smaller cities and into the countryside, and the differences are massive.
In Kashgar the new car to total landscape ratio is much smaller than in Ürümqi, but similarly around 40% of traffic is Chinese – buses and taxis not included. So even though we are the furthest we can be from Beijing, loyalty to local brands is still way stronger than in the capital. However at this stage it is impossible to say whether national loyalty is more of a necessity than a choice: at equal spec, a Chinese model tends to be much cheaper than a foreign one. As usual there is no black and white answer and I would say it is a 60% necessity and 40% choice split.
Tellingly, the composition of the landscape varies greatly from Ürümqi, especially on the non-Chinese side, with a lot more new Korean models and old VW Santanas. When you add the fact that almost all taxis are either Santana or Santana Vista and that taxis represent roughly 1 in every 4 cars in circulation in Kashgar, that’s a lot of old VWs on the streets indeed.
If taxi companies seem to be moving on to new Jetta (more) and new Santana (less), the public is yet to be convinced. The valiant 1986 Santana is still by very far the most common private Volkswagen, a testimony of almost two decades of domination of the Chinese sales charts and 3 million units produced. Watching the Kashgari car landscape reminds you that the Santana is the car that kick started the Chinese automotive industry, and this observation shows a lot of Santana buyers in Kashgar haven’t had the need or the budget to replace them yet. When it ain’t broke, why replace it?
If I estimated the new Jetta to lead the Ürümqi sales charts, I only saw a couple of private new Jetta and Santana in Kashgar, and a few more new Lavida, Sagitar, Magotan and Passat, but Volkswagen is nowhere near the market share it held in Beijing, Chongqing and Ürümqi. This makes the decision to build a factory and start assembling Santanas in Ürümqi to regain the budget end of the market in the Xinjiang Uyghur province all the more relevant.
Another observation that chips away at the Volkswagen Group’s domination nationally is the near-absence of Audis in Kashgar, in frank contrast with Beijing and Chongqing, even though we started witnessing the brand’s decline in Ürümqi. That doesn’t mean there are no luxury cars in Kashgar, but the choice of wealthier car buyers seems to be more oriented towards higher-end Japanese models like the Toyota Land Cruiser, Prado, Highlander, Crown or Camry.
There are nearly no new Fords here except a few new gen Kuga and as mentioned earlier more Hyundais and Kias. But the biggest difference with the rest of the cities I visited so far is the surprising strength of Nissan, potentially the #1 brand outright in town, fighting with Wuling. There is a very strong heritage of Tiida and a lot of Livina and Qashqai as well. Honda is selling a very large number of new gen CR-V and Suzuki is the third over performing Japanese brand in town with lots of Lingyang and already quite a few S-Cross spotted.
Among Chinese manufacturers, the particularity of Kashgar is the solid heritage of Chery QQ, especially in the Old Town where they basically form half of the car landscape – note the Old Town is getting smaller and smaller though. Although I spotted 3 new gen QQ, the diminutive model seems to have lost the battle of the minis to the ChangAn Benben Mini lately. Chery stays strong in new cars through the E5, Tiggo 5 and Cowin 1.
That’s it for the brands, now onto the best-selling new cars in Kashgar. As always it is extremely difficult to estimate this with any kind of reliability based on just the cars I saw in 72 hours, but here goes. I would say the Wuling Hongguang, Nissan Tiida, Kia K2, Chana Taurustar and Shanghai Englon SC7 are all fighting for the top spot.
If most models were also strong in Ürümqi, it is fascinating to notice the progressive gearing-up of the Wuling Hongguang the more we go into the hinterland, confirming that its national pole position has a lot to do with success outside the biggest cities in the country.
Other models that could pretend at a Top 10 spot in Kashgar include the Honda CR-V, Chana Minibus, ChangAn CX20, Kia Sportage previous and current gen, both still on sale in China, Great Wall Voleex C30, Chana Honor, GAC Trumpchi GS5, Nissan Qashqai, Honda City and Landwind X5. That’s 8 Chinese models vs. 7 non-Chinese, confirming the strength of local brands in the Chinese hinterland.
Other popular new models in Kashgar include the SsangYong Korando, Shanghai Englon SC6, Chevrolet Sail, ChangAn Eado, Hyundai Tucson, Great Wall Voleex C10 and Haval M4, BYD F3 Surui, GAC Gonow Aooseed G5, Jonway UFO A380, Hyundai ix35 and Elantra Yuedong. Let’s also note quite a few Chevrolet Malibu, ChangAn CS35, BYD S6, JAC Refine S5 and Liebao/Leopaard Q6 (aka Mitsubishi Pajero). I also spotted one Hyundai Mistra already as well as two Ford F150 Raptor, my first Liebao CS6, two Linian S1 and one Iran Khodro Sahir (aka Samand). Remember we are closer to Tehran than Beijing!
Lastly a lot of you have asked about pollution levels in Chinese cities. Well in Kashgar a mix of questionable exhaust fumes and heavy dust had me yearn for a high pressure shower at the end of each day like rarely I ever have in my life! It’s simple, the mere fact of stepping outside instantly covers you with a thin layer of dust and as far as cars are concerned the only time they are clean is within 5 minutes of having been washed – at most.
Kashgar’s solution to pollution for now is to seemingly make all scooters available here electric. The fact is there are way more scooters than cars in town so it gives for a weirdly futuristic experience of walking down the street with completely silent scooters whizzing past all around you at breakneck speed… Some electric scooter brands I noticed include Huawin, Benod, Hong Psi, Xuanma, Yadea and Luvju.
That’s all for Kashgar! I hope you enjoyed. Next we go on the legendary Karakoram Highway to stop just short off the Pakistani border, so stay tuned!
The full Photo Report (33 photos) continues below.