This is it: finally I can share with you the Top 15 Chinese brands you must know about at the Beijing Auto Show 2018. For reference, you can discover the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the 2014 Beijing Auto Show here, the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show here and the 2016 Beijing Auto Show here. We will split this ranking in three articles and will start with the manufacturers ranked from 11. to 15.
After starting (in my view) as mere duplicates of Haval models, the WEY brand is now bolstered by undeniable commercial success with 129.375 sales in 10 months since its launch in June 2017. The truth is Great Wall has managed in just one year to establish a full-blown brand that does compete at the very high end of the Chinese offering. The WEY stand was imposing, classy with a sporty zing as most models were red. Also, it was in a completely different exhibition hall than Haval so the two brands appeared to be unrelated, which is a good thing.
In a typically Great Wall way (see also Haval further down), the flow of new WEY models seems bottomless. Along with the blockbusters VV5 and VV7 as well as the P8 plug-in hybrid, still to make its first appearance in the Chinese sales charts, WEY offered us two new vehicles to feast our eyes on. The VV6 slides in between the aforementioned two models, in order to – rather logically – secure every inch of market available, and its very sexy and rapacious sporty variant (I am assuming) the RS6, pictured atop this article. We like the direction this brand is taking.
By now you may have guessed that I’m not a big fan of concept cars: in my eyes a car is only important from the moment it hits the sales charts. But the WEY-X does look appropriately spectacular while keeping a WEY family air (not as easy as it sounds), and its cockpit is deliciously futuristic. It’s all forgiven WEY, your concept is a pass.
We remain with Great Wall Motors to transition to the #1 SUV brand in China, Haval. The brand has been faced with declining sales both in 2017 (-9% to 849.554) and so far in 2018 (-19% to 180.523), perhaps not helped by the potentially cannibalising success of WEY. Not one to let go of the bone it is firmly holding between its teeth, Haval unveils new nameplates with metronome regularity. After the M6 at Chengdu last August and the H4 at Guangzhou last November, in Beijing we meet the F5 for the first time. And, surprise, it does look a little different from the rest of the Haval lineup, seemingly indicating the brand could be willing to explore even just a little.
We will choose to overlook the new naming system – F?, why not simply call it H5 to replace its ageing namesake, or M5 to make the M6 less lonely? – because the interior features strangely cool red leather and the entire roof is made of class. The F5 demonstrates that Haval won’t just stay content and watch while WEY goes from win to win, and it’s great to see.
But it’s not just the F5 that impressed me in Beijing. Haval’s long-term best-seller, the H6, was looking mighty fine in its 2018 robe indeed, with a seemingly larger presence, tight exterior looks, and welcome new shapes on the dashboard with an artfully placed stop start button. In short, Haval is not leaving anything to chance when it comes to keeping the H6 at the very top of SUV sales charts in China. It doesn’t mean this will be achieved, with the Baojun 510 getting more threatening this year, but at least the brand is trying, and hard.
13. Lynk & Co
Five months ago at the Guangzhou Auto Show, Lynk & Co was the coolest Chinese brand around. Not that they’ve lost their cool this time around, but the novelty effect has eroded. Not to worry, the Geely semi-premium offering followed through in the same direction, even adding a toboggan on its stand to try and loosen up stuck-up members of the press. Like its rival WEY, Lynk & Co is far from resting on the laurels of the initial success of the 01 (25.000 sales in 4 months).
On its Beijing 2018 stand, Lynk & Co also had the 02 coupe-crossover, freshly unveiled in Europe, as well as the 01 PHEV. Let’s also keep in mind that the 03 sedan, presented as a concept in Guangzhou last November, is just about to see the light of day as a sales-ready nameplate. But Lynk & Co also earns its spot among the 15 Chinese carmakers you must know about at the Show because of a Press Event organised at the new Zhangjiakou factory, 3 hours northeast of Beijing, that I was invited to and will report on shortly. Stay tuned…
Now you may have noticed I have titled this section the 15 Chinese carmakers “you must know about” and not “the most impressive”, this because of two culprits that are not per se impressive and that’s the big news. First off is Ora, the new EV brand by Great Wall. Yep, that’s on top of Great Wall pickups, Haval and WEY SUVs. Beyond the questionable necessity to create an entirely new brand for EVs rather than simply adding EV variants of its existing models, Beijing was the first opportunity to discover the brand in the flesh – so well worth a mention. Ora was given a branded slice of the Haval stand but not its own stand. That was a hint…
Whereas I only had a spy pic of the iQ to play with before the Show, Ora generously provided not one but three vehicles in Beijing. Firstly, the iQ crossover. Although with a face that looks weirdly plastic, the truth is its silhouette – a mix of sedan, coupe and crossover – as well as its styling have nothing to do with what Haval and WEY have shown us so far. This is surprising and great news, meaning the Ora brand looks like it will write its own story.
Ora iQ details
It’s when you step inside that you realise Ora may in fact be just the EV compliance brand we had feared. The white materials and lines on the passenger side do look and feel good at the touch, however the central console is made of decidedly cheap plastic we haven’t seen in a new Great Wall Motors car this decade. Step in the back seat and the crude plastics on the back doors pull the car a couple of notches further down. The iQ wasn’t in the Ora space on the first Press Day: perhaps it was just hiding away from criticism…
The other two vehicles featured on the Ora space somehow lift the bar back up again, especially the futuristic-looking R2 (inside and out) while the R1, although pleasant, looks a little too much like a Smart Forfour. So we’re left scratching our head with the Ora brand. On the one hand the iQ falls flat especially inside, on the other hand it looks like Great Wall Motors is ready to spend some significant money to launch a couple of other models shortly and really establish the brand. Let’s wait and see, but for now it’s a no from me.
It’s pretty rare for me to single a brand out like Lifan at the 2018 Beijing Auto Show. But hopefully this, and more media reports, will be read by the brand’s executives and the start of a much needed transformation process will be initiated. Lifan is the most successful Chinese carmaker in export markets with Chery, and has been for a while, playing the low-cost card traditionally associated with Chinese brands. But times have changed, even more so for Chinese marques, and in the past five years almost all of them have made astounding progress design- and, more importantly, quality-wise.
Not Lifan. Stepping into the X70, shiny plastics that had their place in mid-2000’s Chinese fares and 1980’s Western models make a comeback – or rather, have never left Lifan models. The central storage unit has blunt pieces of metal sticking out and all opening and closing noises in the cabin sound like they come straight from a 1950 Land Rover. When you take into account the fact that cars featured at Auto Shows traditionally are the top specs and even sometime spruced up to a level you will never see in real life in order to impress, that’s simply just not good enough. Lifan sales continue to slide at home (-12% in March) and it won’t be long until overseas markets get exposed to the latest and brightest from China. Then sadly, the brand won’t have any reason to exist anymore. It’s time to launch into the 21st century Lifan.
Stay tuned for the next iteration of the Top 15 Chinese carmaker you must know about Part 2 coming shortly…