Lynk & Co 01 headlight detail
Last week was the opening of the Guangzhou Auto Show 2017, and for the second time after 2015 BSCB was able to attend. The main objective was to stay on top of the numerous new launches by Chinese carmakers so this report will mainly focus on these, with foreign brands covered in the last three points. I give you 20 Highlights of the Guangzhou Auto Show 2017 in 150 pictures. Remember to click on any pic to enlarge it.
1. Lynk & Co is where it’s at
Only one year after its unveiling, the Lynk & Co brand has already gained the title of coolest Chinese brand around. Its stand was by far the busiest in the entire show, including a very large delegation of Volkswagen executives that spent a good hour examining every millimetre of vehicle during the Press Day. On top of displaying two 01 crossovers as well as one 03 sedan concept, Lynk & Co masterfully managed to pull an almost impossible balance between premium and accessible. The stand is a smart black background that inversely heroes the cars, but the (mostly Western) staff is all-smiles and wearing a variety of playful/incongruous tees (“so rong it’s write”) and the space is populated with a multitude of inclusive areas such as multiple swings (yes), photo booths, a bar and a DJ booth playing music that makes me feel I should definitely get onto this Spotify subscription or risking feeling hopelessly old-fashioned very quickly: there is such a thing as a Lynk & Co rap (see video above at 2:00).
The 01 crossover itself is full of very satisfying finds, such as the unique front and rear lights, almost perfect interior allying plushness, modern design and liveability, and unquestionable four-wheel drive ability as featured in a stunning promotional video (see above) shot both in the Inner Mongolian desert and in Sweden – Lynk & CO also has Swedish genes as it shares its platform with the new Volvo XC40. Then there is the innovative 100% online sales strategy coupled with new subscription models also trialled by Volvo. Contrary to the other attempts at premium by Chinese carmakers, and in those I will include Qoros, WEY and Exeed – all covered further down in this Report – Lynk & Co has already understood that to succeed, premium doesn’t have to mean aloof. You can be welcoming and high quality at the same time, and it’s called confidence. Although Lynk & Co hasn’t sold a single vehicle in market yet, it already exudes a level of confidence I have not yet witnessed in a Chinese carmaker – even with Haval and Geely. There, I’ve said it, and I look forward to the next steps.
2. Changhe stuns with the Q7 SUV
Bought by BAIC in late 2013, Changhe had some kind of revival in 2016 with the successive launches of the Q25 and Q35 crossovers, based on BAIC Senova models but displaying their own personality. But despite the additional launch of the Freedom M70 MPV last January, I pronounced Changhe well and truly dead in 2017 with sales crumbling down 53% in May, 37% in August, 28% in September and 29% in October. But no, BAIC has not given up on Changhe, in fact the opposite is true. It is launching two new nameplates in Guangzhou: the good-looking A6 sedan with much-improved interiors, but the one that will shatter low-end perceptions of the brand is the Q7 SUV.
Below: Changhe A6
The exterior is robust yet sober, with nice premium touches like the Changhe name in curvy writing on the back pillars, sharp head and backlights and a chromed grille, but it’s the interior that makes a remarkable statement, successfully applying a rectangular shape theme to the air vents, floor console, wheel commands, touch screen and electric window commands. Sown leather feels plush, all commands invite use and I just want to touch everything inside this very surprising car. Assuredly one of the best interiors ever released by a Chinese carmaker. Who would have ever thought that of Changhe?
3. The Arcfox Lite: the first truly cool Chinese EV
Almost managing to make more noise at the Show than Lynk & Co, Beijing Auto BJEV is the unexpected creator of the first truly cool Chinese EV: the Arcfox Lite. Arcfox is the group’s new EV brand launched in April 2016 at the Beijing Auto Show, and the Lite is its first model. However the accent is fully put on the Lite name, with Chinese media referring to it as Lite by Arcfox. Regardless, this is a cute little minicar and there were literally dozens of them inundating the Guangzhou Auto stand in both bright and pastel colours. Two main attractions in the Lite. First, the interior which is one of the most exciting ever launched for a Chinese brand, featuring not one but three 8 inch screens forming a full digital bar. Second, it has LED displays at the front and rear of the car where both the driver and passenger can ‘advertise’ their own messages, in Chinese or Western alphabets, and even emoticons. Above you can see the front display filled with hearts. Cute. It’s like the car is speaking with pedestrians! Plus you get to be able to write what you want, including insults. Now that’s cool.
Hanteng X7 PHEV and X5 interior
4. One year-old Hanteng is improving fast
Created in 2013, Hanteng Motors is, like Zotye, owned by Tech-New. It appeared in the Chinese sales charts a little more than a year ago with a Zotye T600 rebadge, the X7, then unveiled the smaller X5 at last year’s Guangzhou Auto Show in November 2016 but is yet to be sold nationally. So far, nothing spectacular. And this is why Hanteng ranks so high in my list of surprises this year: the carmaker introduced not one but two new designs for the X7 (the X7 PHEV and X7S) as well as a rejigged X5. The interiors are a giant leap forward with high perceived quality, sown materials and the brand name embedded in the armrest. I’m very impressed.
5. The new Landwind Xiaoyao is only a half-clone
That’s always better than a full clone, right? One of the best surprises of the Show is this stunning-looking Landwind Xiaoyao, originally unveiled as a concept one year ago at Guangzhou Auto 2016. It is simply the best looking Landwind launched so far and a far cry from the infamous Range Rover Evoque clone, the X5. Landwind has however not entirely given up on cloning, and a look at the car sideways and from the rear will undeniably remind you of a certain Mercedes GLA. The interior is okay if only a little too shiny and plasticky, but these sharp front headlights make it all worthwhile. Way to go Landwind.
6. Baojun gallops ahead, again
We are still digesting the astronomical sales figures of the latest Baojun launch, the daringly-designed 510 headed towards becoming the fastest nameplate in the history of automobile both in China and the world to reach 300.000 sales (10 months). Yet Baojun strikes again, giving the 510 a larger brother named 530. Don’t change it if it ain’t broke: the 530 utilises the cutting-edge design cues of the 510, adding a bit more chrome around the grille and down the bumpers. Although larger, the 530 remains a five-seater and is, too, destined to a stellar career.
But this Show was also the opportunity for me to step inside the 510 for the first time and see what the fuss is all about. And straight away I understood. With pricing starting at just 59.800 yuan (US$9.000 or €7.700), the 510 offers inside luxuries otherwise reserved to cars a few segments up: electric seats, sown materials, pleasant fabrics, rotary gear shift, Mercedes-style dials and my pet fave: a slow-opening glovebox. I want one. Could General Motors sell this as an entry-model crossover under the Chevrolet brand please? Or even better: as a Holden in Australia where I live?
7. Are WEY cars all the same?
New Great Wall premium brand WEY has decided all its models should be painted red at the Show, perhaps to better contrast with Haval cars mostly white here. And some contrast is needed as I still can’t shake off the feeling that both the WEY VV5 and VV7 look like more aggressive Haval H2s or H6, but are lacking differentiating personalities. The Chinese public certainly disagrees with me, having gobbled up no less than 45.000 WEY cars since sales started a mere four months ago. To this confusingly similar-looking tandem, WEY has added the P8 plug-in hybrid unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show last September, adorned with a Lexus-styled grille. The interior looks almost identical with a few additional rotary controls. Don’t get me wrong, interior quality is at its best for a Chinese brand but I’m left wanting more.
8. Can Exeed succeed?
Contrary to Lynk & Co and WEY which both had their very own stand located in completely different halls than Geely and Haval respectively, Chery’s new premium brand, Exeed, remains closely linked to its creator. The mention “by Chery” is placed below the Exeed name on billboard advertising around the Show’s venue and the TX SUV was positioned right in the middle of the… Chery stand in Guangzhou. A half-baked attempt at this stage. The car design itself looks a little heavy and is lacking some dynamism, definitely showing that it’s Chery’s largest SUV to-date. Nothing outstanding exterior design-wise, if anything it looks less modern than the Tiggo 7 or 5x, and the interior is plush without being exceptional, with a very confusing asymmetrical central armrest in-between the front seats. A pretty unconvincing performance so far by Exeed, especially given all the hype surrounding both competitors Lynk & Co and WEY.
9. More SUVs from Dongfeng
There is only one word on the lips of Dongfeng executives: SUVs. Building on the historical success of the Fengguang 580 (almost 20.000 sales last month), Dongfeng has just unveiled the Fengxing S560 to market (see our October All-new models report) and will launch the Fengdu MX3 shortly, but that’s no excuse not to launch more, correct? Correct. Introducing the totally revamped Fengxing Joyear X5 five-seater and and the all-new Joyear X6… seven-seater, both coming with two slightly different snouts for the price of one and looking better and better with each launch, if only a tad too close to Volkswagen…
10. Three more Havals
In 2016, Haval inaugurated a two-fold blue and red label strategy, in effect instantly doubling the size of its lineup. Not to be slowed down, after launching the M6 a couple of months ago (and a new brand, WEY), Haval surprises us with another identical-looking SUV: the H4, of course available in slightly different designs for blue and red labels. Its interior is of great quality as we have come to expect from the brand, but a little schizophrenic, hesitating between the straight lines of its touch screen and the more rounded aspects of the rest of the cockpit. Oh and for good measure, let’s throw in a totally new H6 Coupe Red label design looking like a… M6 which is blue label, obvs. Wait, what?
11. The FAW Hongqi H5 impresses with its interior
Ever since the first Chinese Auto Show I attended, back in Beijing in 2014, the FAW Hongqi brand has been big on promises but not so much on delivery. It now has a realistic model under its belt in the form of the H5, which really impressed me with its interior. Some fun design statements like the floating armrest, along with electric seats, plush materials and a well-proportioned and very digital central console are only let down by a glove box falling abruptly with a cheap “clang” – one of my pet hates. Pity no sales figures are communicated by the carmaker. The LS5 SUV was once again on display but seems to be destined to forever remain a dream.
12. Geely continues to launch like a Boss
There’s a confident air at the Geely stand with the information desk set up in minimalistic manner just next to an elegant tea bar. Quietly celebrating its highest monthly sales on record (125.201 units in October), Geely couldn’t go an Auto Show without a new model launch – the seventh in the past 20 months! – and here comes the Vision S1 hatchback, with simple yet sophisticated interiors. It’s good to see that Geely hasn’t got distracted in the least by the Lynk & Co fanfare.
13. Wuling proudly goes SUV with the Hongguang S3
Unveiled in Shanghai last April and on sale since earlier this month, the Hongguang S3 is Wuling’s very first SUV, albeit built on a Hongguang MPV platform as its name indicates. The brand has been struggling lately due to the freefalling of the commercial minivans that used to be its bread and butter. Even the best-selling Hongguang and Hongguang V are declining in the double-digits, so this S3 comes just at the right time. I wanted to see whether the interior was very Wuling of very SUV, and the latter is true, with bluffing materials for a starting price of 59.800 yuan (US$9.000 or €7.700)… The cherry on top: from Day 2 of the Show Wuling proudly displayed an extravagant race car version of the S3!
14. Chery confirms progress with the 5x – pity about the name
After showing us a much-improved design and interior with the Tiggo 7, the works of new design house Granstudio (the design agency established by former Pininfarina design director Lowie Vermeersch), Chery confirms it is on the right path with this 5x, whose interior shows, well, actual style with just enough chrome and quality materials. Now about the naming. Chery seems to have now got into the habit of denominating with x their new models: choosing Tiggo 3x instead of the more logical Tiggo 4 and now Tiggo 5x instead of, why not, Tiggo 6?
15. Brilliance V6 a good exterior design let down by its interior
Brilliance is one of the worst-faring Chinese carmakers at home this year with sales down an abysmal 48% after ten months. A new SUV is just what the doctor ordered, and thankfully the V6 is here. It’s a marked progress in terms of exterior design, rather modern while keeping the brand’s proprietary grille. Unfortunately, the interior, albeit featuring a reasonably-sized touch screen – a must for Chinese cars nowadays – is all a bit too bland and shiny and seems stuck a few years back.
16. BYD offers a stylish concept, but that’s about it
It’s potentially the start of a renaissance at BYD, with the already successful Song MAX MPV the first model penned by new head of design and ex-Audi man Wolfgang Egger. The brand needs it, with sales down 20% so far this year. But it had not much else to show in Guangzhou, except for a sexy Dynasty concept featuring cameras instead of rear-view mirrors (the way of the future) and a gigantic and protruding touch screen inside – unfortunately the doors were closed.
17. The Chinese carmakers that disappointed
Although based in Guangzhou, local player GAC Trumpchi was far from being the star of the show. Granted, it had a pretty busy year already with the very successful launch of the gigantic GS8 and the arrivals of the GS7 and GS3. Still, it had one novelty at the Show: the enormous GM8 luxury MPV that will target the BYD Song MAX and try and steal some Buick GL8 buyers. Given how fantastically GAC Trumpchi has broken all taboos about successful Chinese large SUVs with the GS8, it could very well do the same in the MPV segment with this GM8…
Chery-owned Qoros is down 44% in 2017 on already very disappointing results, and it doesn’t look like a sales spark will be triggered any time soon: when you call your latest novelty “model Young” just in case your target market isn’t clear enough and launch a car which essentially looks like a Chery Tiggo 7, it reeks of desperation. Clearly, the priority now for Chery in terms of semi-premium brands is Exeed.
The only satisfying model on Lifan’s stand is the Xuanlang MPV, that’s if you’re willing to ignore it is almost a picture perfect clone of the Ford S-Max. The interior of the also-new X80 could have passed three years ago but not in 2017, and no sign of the X70 SUV which would have given the moribund stand a much needed touch of sexiness. Weird.
It has disappointed me before, but this year Haima has reached new lows. Yes, the “camping holiday” theme on the stand is cute with staff wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the “new(?)” F7 crossover is just a stilted version of the V70 which itself was recycling a decade-old design. But it gets worse when you step inside: shiny plastics and analogue speedos galore. It would appear Haima got lost somewhere around 1994. The market responded accordingly with sales down 35% in 2017 so far.
Although very well represented, not all Chinese carmakers were attending the Guangzhou Auto Show this year, with the most notable absentees being Zotye, followed by Leopaard, Cowin, Karry, Zhi Dou, Bisu and Yema. Hopefully they will all make up for it at the next Beijing Auto Show in April 2018!
18. Is PSA Peugeot-Citroen hungry enough?
With Peugeot down 28% so far this year, Citroen down 56% and DS down 62%, PSA Peugeot Citroen is in serious need of a couple of blockbusters. If Peugeot logically put all its energy on the 4008/5008 tandem, Citroen shows us the C5 Aircross. Neither the new C3 nor the C3 Aircross convinced me (cheap interiors), so this is a good test that Citroen passes with highest honours. Contrary to the aforementioned models, the C5 Aircross’ cockpit does feel premium and very original yet pleasantly understated. A huge step in the right direction for the French carmaker.
Over on the DS stand, it’s all about the new DS 7 Crossback that has launched almost simultaneously in Europe and China. I was totally impressed by the DS Experience at last year’s Paris Auto Show, but this time the stand feels cramped with the brand bent on showing absolutely all its models in one go. Granted, the DS 7 is sophisticated, with the Chinese opting to play up its “sponsorship” of France’s new president Macron’s inauguration – a la Hongqi with Chinese presidents – but the over-use of the DS logo’s angular motif virtually everywhere inside is trying too hard. DS hasn’t posted a four-digit sales month since last January and the DS 7 will need to create a lot of momentum to reverse the trend. A tough ask.
19. Korean carmakers are all SUV guns blazing!
For very different reasons than PSA, 2017 is also a nightmare year for both Hyundai (-34%) and Kia (-49%), losing in the space of a few months years of diligent sales progression in China. There is only one way to remedy this hell: SUVs, and lots of them. Reassuringly, both brands answer present with Hyundai adding a thoroughly revamped ix35 on sale locally since last week as well as the all-new Kona scheduled for early 2018 and renamed Encino for China. The Encino will aim right at the über-successful Honda Vezel/XR-V tandem. For Kia, the thinking behind the mysteriously named NP is less clear: it’s relatively big for China while the small KX3 is in dire straits. This Korean SUV assault just as Japanese Mazda, with the CX-3 only dipping its toes in China now, and Toyota, not even showing the C-HR slotted for a summer 2018 release here, are lagging way behind.
Both the Chevrolet Colorado and Silverado were on display in Guangzhou.
20. General Motors got it right
Still ultra-dominant In China, the Volkswagen Group maintained a steady presence in Guangzhou, showing off the new Skoda Karoq, a deliciously sporty VW T-Rocstar (see what they did there?) which reminds us the T-Roc should have been launched in China before Europe and not the other way around, and the dreamy Audi Q8 Concept, a very sexy proposal indeed.
But one foreign manufacturer got it more right than others in Guangzhou this year: General Motors. Even when putting aside the very impressive showing of SAIC joint-venture brands Baojun and Wuling, GM shines with its American brands Buick (new GL6 and Avenir) and Chevrolet, which very interestingly showed both Colorado and Silverado pickups as well as a very aggressive Equinox RS. This as Ford didn’t even bother with the F-150 Raptor albeit now officially imported into China, and just when Nissan announced it will start importing the Titan full-size pickup to China next year, to come alongside the locally-produced Navara.
That’s all for our coverage of the Guangzhou Auto Show 2017. Stay tuned for a thorough exploration of the car landscape of the city, coming shortly on BSCB.