China December 2014: Focus on the all-new models
Ford is reviving the Escort nameplate, for Chinese car buyers only.
* See the Top 362 All-models ranking by clicking on the title *
As is the tradition on BSCB, after exploring the monthly Chinese ranking, we explore in detail the all-new models that make their entrance in the biggest car market in the world, in other words models that have kick-started local production as imports data is still a very well-kept secret in China. After a record 12 all-new nameplates launched in November – and most of them improving further in December, we welcome another avalanche of newcomers in December: no less than 11 including 7 Chinese and a few very promising ones among them. Once again this is a lot better than the 8 all-new entrants from a year ago in December 2013. Complete analysis will follow shortly.
1. Beijing Auto Senova D20 (#136 with 4,492 sales)
The D20 is none other than a facelifted E-Series moved under the Senova sub-brand as it was standing alone without any sub-brand attached to it up until now, a very rare situation for a Chinese nameplate. Available as hatchback or sedan, it is priced between 48.800 and 82.800 yuan (US$7.850-13.300) and based on the platform of the 2004 Smart ForFour. Interestingly, the E-Series hatchback outsold the sedan by about 2:1, at odds with the traditional Chinese love affair with sedans. As a logical result of the arrival of the Senova D20, the E-Series is down 56% to 5,192 sales in December, indicating an overall potential of 10,000 monthly units. The E-Series’ record monthly result is indeed 11,932 units exactly one year ago in December 2013.
Bar for success: #50 or 10,000 monthly sales
2. Ford Escort (#156 with 3,710 units)
Over a decade after killing it in 2003 to make place for the Focus, Ford is reviving the Escort nameplate only for China with this model based on the current China-made Focus Classic, a slightly dressed up 2nd generation Ford Focus which it will eventually replace. The Escort enters the most crowded segment in China – compact sedans, and has big shoes to fill as the Focus Classic still accounts for around 40% of the 392,000 Focus sold in China in 2014, that’s roughly 160,000 annual units. To an already tough challenge on paper is added a surprisingly high price and disappointingly bare interior. Ouch. The Escort is priced at 96.800-119.800 yuan (US$15.500-19.200), a logical notch lower than the 119.000-169.900 yuan ($19.200-27.300) of the Focus. But.
No LCV touch screen, instead: that.
The compact sedans with which the Escort competes are all priced lower: see the Peugeot 301 at 84.700-116.700 yuan ($13.600-18.800), Citroen C-Elysée at 83.800-118.800 yuan ($13.500-19.100) and Toyota Corolla EX at 90.800-113.800 ($14.600-18.300). And the brand new Toyota Corolla is only slightly more expensive at 107.800-134.800 yuan ($17.300-21.700), making the Escort a good 13.000 yuan (US$2.500) too expensive, a price difference that could be fatal in this segment. Especially given the interior features no LCV touch screen or any other screen in any version. LCV touch screens have become a must-have in any car sold in China and local carmakers now have huge examples in 50.000 yuan vehicles ($8.000), or half the price of the Escort.
Big shoes to fill: Ford wants to eventually replace the Focus Classic with the Escort.
According to local website Carnewschina, “buyers in the segment where the Escort operates are known to be mid-aged and conservative, so the conservative design of the vehicle makes some sense. However, younger buyers will walk away and that is the booming market Ford should really be after, in a time where other brands are designing cars especially for the young. All in all, it almost seems as if Ford didn’t really want this new Escort. The comments on Chinese websites are largely negative, with many commenters saying the Escort is too expensive for what it offers.” In this context, matching Focus Classic sales seems extravagant, where really the Escort should increase its predecessor’s sales by 20%.
Bar for success: #25 or 16,000 monthly sales
3. Hawtai Shengdafei (#218 with 1,658 deliveries)
Unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show where it impressed me with its design but horrified me with the poor quality of its interior, the new Hawtai Shengdafei is a rather competitive addition to the fast-growing Chinese SUV world. Hawtai indeed designs its first truly attractive SUV after 6 years of manufacturing the first generation Santa Fe from 1999 and an awkwardly imposing Baolige. It is priced from 101.800 to 125.800 yuan (US$16.300-20.100). While its predecessors have been oscillating between #150 and #200 each month, the Shengdafei should be able to top this to take the Hawtai brand to new levels.
Bar for success: #125 or 4,000 monthly sales
4. Citroen C3-XR (#228 with 1,246 sales)
Eight months after the Peugeot 2008 launched here, its twin from Dongfeng-Citroen the C3-XR arrives and is based on a stretched variant of the platform that underpins that very same Peugeot 2008. Priced between 108.800 and 171.800 yuan ($17.400-27.500), the C3-XR is more expensive than the 2008 which launched at 99.700-136.700 yuan ($16.000-21.900) and lands in a very competitive segment that keeps growing very fast month after month. So far the 2008 has peaked at #75 (last July) and 7,321 sales (November), while the similarly sized Chevrolet Trax has been roaming around the 100th spot. The C3-XR can reasonably aim at similar scores, keeping in mind the price difference will keep some customers away.
Bar for success: #90 or 6,000 monthly sales
5. Wuling Journey (#235 with 1,009 units)
Wuling has managed the momentous transition from microvans to MPV that a huge swath of Chinese countryside customers is going through at the moment, placing the Hongguang at the very top of the sales charts for two years running, culminating at 750,000 annual sales this year – as much as the amount of Ford F-Series sold in the USA! Logically and cleverly, the brand is aiming even higher and larger with the new Journey MPV, Wuling’s biggest vehicle so far at over 5m long and coming in seven and nine seat configurations. The Journey symbolises where the Chinese market could go very soon into the future… or not.
Is it too big to reach high sales levels? Or is it actually exactly what the first 2012 Hongguang customers now want? Very difficult to predict, even looking at Chinese vehicle sales month after month, the reason being it is the first Chinese vehicle of its kind – another fascinating aspect of this market that keeps filling in with new concepts, segments and entrants. The closest successful vehicle is the Buick GL8 which hit 12,000 sales back in January 2014 but more traditionally evolves around 7,000 monthly units. However the GL8 is mainly purchased by government bodies to transport their VIP guests who may not want to travel in a *mass-market* Wuling. Not used to failure, Wuling should expect at least 5,000 monthly sales of the Journey, with 10,000 a market-altering performance that will trigger many new entrants on this nascent segment.
Bar for success: #75 or 7,500 monthly sales
6. Suzuki Alivio (#249 with 794 deliveries)
If this car looks familiar to you dear BSCB reader, it’s because an Indian version launched last October as the Maruti Ciaz. The Alivio is based on the same platform as the very successful S-Cross and is competitively priced between 84.900 and 121.900 yuan ($14.600-19.640). It enters the extremely crowded sub-compact sedan segment that sees the likes of the Honda City and Toyota Vios compete with much cheaper Chinese counterparts. The Alivio is priced slightly higher than its two Japanese competitors, at odds with its mostly bare-bones range in this country (thinking Lingyang and Liana). It must be able to get to a similar level as the S-Cross to start getting noticed.
Bar for success: #150 or 3,000 monthly sales
7. Honda XR-V (#267 with 526 sales)
In the 3 months since it launched in China, the Honda Vezel has aligned a set of stunning sales performances, reaching no less than 11,639 sales in December for a spot inside the Top 50 and making it an instant blockbuster. There is then room for a sportier version of the same car, named differently and manufactured by a different joint-venture. Crazy? Not in such a large car market as China and where most foreign carmakers have two joint ventures with two different Chinese companies, each wanting what the other one has. We have recently seen the exact same phenomenon with the new generation Toyota Corolla and Levin. The Honda XR-V, aimed at a younger target, is therefore manufactured by Dongfeng-Honda and priced at 127.800-162.800 yuan (US$20.400-26.000) whereas the Vezel is built by Guangzhou-Honda and priced at 128.800-189.800 yuan or US$20.600-30.300). Can the XR-V beat the Vezel? If both models could add up to a cool 15,000 monthly units, that’s as many conquests into the Honda brand.
Bar for success: #100 or 5,000 monthly sales
8. Qoros 3 City SUV (#314 with 181 units)
Twelve excruciating months after the effective launch of a new joint-venture between Chery and Israel Corporation originally founded in 2007 with the new 3 compact hatchback, we now have another hyped up nothingness: the 3 City SUV, a roughed up variant of the 3 with fake roof rakes. All this useless black plastic and height is worth an additional 20.000 yuan than the 3 hatchback, with the 3 City SUV priced at 139.900-179.900 yuan ($22.500-28.900) compared to a 3 hatchback starting at 119.000 yuan. As Qoros is a Chinese brand supposedly designed in Europe to fool Chinese buyers into purchasing European flair whereas it is actually manufactured in China, the 3 City SUV is a marketing SUV that should only stay in the city. And for taking Chinese consumers for fools, Qoros pays the price: only 6,700 hatchbacks found a buyer in 2014 compared to a production capacity (and targets) of 150,000 sales. The 3 City SUV won’t fare much better despite the desperate hype.
Bar for success: #150 or 3,000 monthly sales
9. Denza EV (#317 with 132 deliveries)
The BYD-Daimler joint-venture was created to offer affordable electric cars to Chinese consumers. For now its first model, the Denza EV, is far from affordable: price starts at 369.000 yuan and ends at 399.000 yuan ($60.000-65.000), and that includes all green-car subsidies but excludes the free license plate for electric cars which is worth about 90.000 yuan. Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing are currently the only cities in China where the Denza is available, the rest of the country will be served during 2015. BYD and Daimler are willing to grow the Denza range but not planning to export any time soon. It will be a tough act to convince Chinese buyers to fork out that type of money for a hatchback, just for the silent reward of doing a good deed for the planet. A pure result of the government’s pressure on manufacturers to produce more EVs, it’s fair to say the Denza EV’s sales prospects are limited for now.
Bar for success: #220 or 1,000 monthly sales
10. GAC Trumpchi GA6 (#327 with 84 sales)
Presented at the latest Beijing Auto Show, the GAC Trumpchi GA6 confirms if need be that GAC is getting extremely serious with its Trumpchi sub-brand, after a highly publicised sponsoring of the Hollywood blockbuster movie Transformers IV and just as it presents the GA6 Limited at the Detroit Auto Show in the US, the GA6 hits Chinese dealerships. After the GA3 and GA3S, the GA6 is arguably the best design effort of any Chinese manufacturer so far, having nothing to blush about compared to the latest Toyota or Hyundai models. Priced from 116.800 to 196.800 yuan (US$ 18.700-31.500), it will have the hard task to lure Chinese car buyers away from foreign brands. The Trumpchi GA5 has struggled to pop its bonnet above the #250 spot whereas the GA3S is already #73 in December. The GA6 should find its place somewhere in the middle.
Bar for success: #150 or 3,000 monthly sales
11. Yema T70 (#344 with 20 units)
When will Yema stop spitting out clones of various foreign SUVs? Not anytime soon it would appear. Usually Yema models are based on the platform of the previous generation Subaru Forester, but the Yema T70 is the first “all-new” Yema passenger car since 2008, standing on a new platform and powered by new engines, albeit with its design an indigent mix of Range Rover grille, Volkswagen Touareg and wannabe Audi SUV. Its argument is its price ranging from 79.800 to 118.800 yuan ($12.800-19.000). In the history of the Yema brand, two models have managed to ever crack the monthly Top 200, each doing so once: the F12 at #177 in May 2014 and the F10 at #196 in August 2012. Stepping up to that level would have the T70 noticed.
Bar for success: #200 or 2,000 monthly sales
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Previous month: China November 2014: Focus on the all-new models
One year ago: China December 2013: Focus on the all-new models
Full December 2014 Top 362 All-models Ranking Table below.