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China February 2015: Focus on the all-new models

MG GS China February 2015The MG GS Rui Teng is one of the best Chinese designs so far.

* See the Top 350 All-local models by clicking on the title. Pricing info from Carnewschina *

As is the tradition on BSCB, we first explore the monthly Chinese ranking, then 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. If you though the Chinese market was panting in 2015, think again. In February 2014, only one new entrant (the Qoros 3) hit the sales charts, this year they are 6, also up from 4 in January. Once again the new entrant illustrate perfectly the current trends at play in the Chinese market: none is a passenger car, 4 are SUVs, 2 MPVs and 5 out of 6 are Chinese. Only disappointment: all the new nameplates hitting the sales charts in February do so with less than 1,000 sales and beyond the 200th position – for now.

Lifan Lotto China February 2015. Picture courtesy auto.sohu.com

1. Lifan Lotto (#221 with 848 sales)

There is still room in the Chinese market for Wuling Hongguang lookalikes: after Chery resuscitated the Karry brand last month for the K50, Lifan now has its own low-cost MPV: the Lotto. Price goes from 39.800 to 50.800 (US$6.400-8.200), thus clearly undercutting the Hongguang priced at 44.800-60.800 yuan ($7.200-9.700). One of the main reasons behind the tremendous success of the Wuling brand has been its cut-throat pricing, and the Lotto is rather lonely with its price positioning below ground level. Lifan goes against the overall trend upsizing from microvans (Wuling Sunshine) to low-cost MPVs (Hongguang) to more refined low-cost MPVs (Hongguang S), but this could also be a sign that the MPV growth is about to stop: there are now 38 nameplates in this segment and sales are up by ‘just’ 17% so far in 2015 vs. +47% over FY2014. Pricing the Lotto below the Hongguang may be the only way Lifan can hope to gather some momentum with this late entry into the segment. Plus Lifan has been struggling at home lately, at least up until this year with the arrival of the X50 SUV (#136), one of only 3 reps inside the February Top 200 with the X60 (#94) and 720 (#172).

Bar for success: #150 or 3,000 monthly sales

Beijing Auto Huansu H2 China February 2015

2. Beijing Auto Huansu H2 (#248 with 456 units)

Beijing Auto could learn a lesson or two from the likes of Geely, Great Wall or even Chery in terms of brand management: after launching the Beijing Auto Weiwang M20 18 months ago and the rebadge Changhe Freedom M50, a third carbon copy hits the ground this month: the Beijing Auto Huansu H2. Only difference: this time the price is a notch higher at 58.800-66.800 yuan (US$9.500-10.800), to be compared with 49.800-51.900 yuan (US$ 7.900-8.300) for the Freedom M50 and 46.800-53.800 ($7.500-8.600) for the Weiwang M20. The reason: the H2 is slightly more refined, and also 12cm longer. I’m giving the H2 an equivalent bar for success as I did to the Changhe Freedom M50 last month. The fact that it is the third iteration of the same model is compensated by the Huansu sub-brand having seen a lot of showroom traffic lately with the S3 SUV peaking at 16,414 sales last month and the S2 hitting 6,220 deliveries in December.

Bar for success: #125 or 4,000 monthly sales

Beijing Auto Senova X65 China February 2015. Picture courtesy auto.ifeng.com

3. Beijing Auto Senova X65 (#259 with 349 deliveries)

The X65 is the first SUV bearing the Senova sub-brand name from Beijing Auto. Its official launch was on March 21, so these are pre-sales to dealerships. The X65’s platform is derived on that of the Saab 9-3. BAIC, the mother company of Beijing Auto, bought the rights to the platforms for the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 from General Motors in 2009. The deal included the Saab-developed 2.0 turbo and 2.3 turbo engines, and we find the 2.0L turbo in the X65, an engine it also shares with the Senova D70. Its pricing is anticipated to hover between 120.000 and 160.000 yuan (US$19.400-25.800), pretty sharp for access to Saab-derived technology. The Senova brand, since its much-publicised Nicholas Cage-sponsored launch in May 2013, has been met with various fortunes depending on the nameplates: the original D70 culminated at #151 and 3,194 sales in December 2013 but has since fallen to beyond the 300th position (#315 in February) while the D50 has managed to regularly find its way into the monthly Top 100 over the past year, peaking at #81 last August and 8,000 sales last December. Can the Chinese market absorb yet another sporty-ish SUV? I say hell yes.

Bar for success: #125 or 4,000 monthly sales

ZX Auto GX3 China February 2015

4. ZX Auto GX3 (#278 with 219 sales)

Unveiled as a concept at the Guangzhou Motor Show last November, the ZX Auto GX3 has not lost any time hitting the country’s dealerships: it already appears in the sales ranking this month. The GX3 is a more up-market version of the C3 Urban Ark with the same 1.5L petrol engine delivering 104hp, and the 2nd inroad into the SUV market from this manufacturer known for its pickups – namely the Grand Tiger. The GX3 comes with trendy headlights, a new grille, a new bumper with LED lights, classy alloys, and an improved interior, with pricing at 63.800-69.800 yuan (US$10.300-11.300), just topping the most expensive C3. Given the C3 Urban Ark peaked at #150 and 2,549 sales during its 12 month-career, it is fair to expect at least the same sales level for this SUV looking a lot more expensive than it is. Whether the C3 or the GX3 will end up being the most popular will have a critical impact on the future direction of the brand in this segment: bare bones low-cost (C3) or trendy affordable (GX3)…

Bar for success: #150 or 2,500 monthly sales

Infiniti QX50 China February 2015. Picture courtesy auto.sohu.com

5. Infinti QX50 (#281 with 196 units)

This is not a new model per se, but it is a new entrant in the Chinese ranking because its local production has just kicked off, a few months after the Q50L. The Chinese model sits on a wheelbase extended by 8 cm and is powered by a 2.5L V6 engine mated to a 7AT. It is priced between 359.800-459.800 yuan (US$58.100-74.200). February sales are just 196 units, but given the Q50L has been stuck around the 220th place since its launch last November, there are no real reasons to believe this much older model can do a lot better for now.

Bar for success: #200 or 1,800 monthly sales

MG GS China February 2015b

6. MG GS Rui Teng (#287 with 161 deliveries)

The GS Rui Teng (Chinese for “vigorous rise”) is the very first SUV to be launched under the famous MG brand, now in the hands of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). Thanks to a deal between the two companies during the time SAIC owned a controlling stake in SsangYong Motor between 2004 and 2009, the GS is based on the third generation (2010) SsangYong Korando, it is priced between 135.000 and 190.000 yuan (US$21.500-30.300) and powered by a 2.0 turbocharged petrol four with a six-speed DCT. Officially launched on March 18, these February sales are to dealerships only, and expect the GS to climb up the ladder rather quickly. In fact, given the current craze for compact SUVs and given a very interesting design for a Chinese SUV, it could very well become the brand’s best-seller by far in a matter of months, a title held in February by the GT at a very achievable #185 and 1,469 sales. The GS could also unlock a few overseas markets as it has nothing to be ashamed of design-wise next to the über-successful Korean SUVs. An exciting – yet to be defined as vigorous – rise to follow indeed…

Bar for success: #175 or 2,500 monthly sales

Previous month: China January 2015: Focus on the all-new models

Previous China post: China February 2015: Ford Escort and VW Lamando impress

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