This is part 3 of our exploration of China following the Beijing Auto Show. You can check out Part 1: The cars of Beijing and using the Didi app here and Part 2: Renting a car in China here. We are now in possession of our rental VW Lavida and firmly headed towards Inner Mongolia which will be the focus on my annual Chinese exploration for 2018. But first, let’s acknowledge the Yinchuan car park.
I picked Yinchuan as both the pick-up and drop-off city for my rental because it is located 1.200 km west of Beijing and therefore gets me significantly closer to Inner Mongolia. Its provincial town status means much cheaper rental prices than in Beijing but as the largest city in the region it also means lots of availability for rental cars and a wide array of dealerships to visit. Yinchuan is where I test drove the Baojun 530, Haval H6, Baojun 510 and Geely Boyue. Click on the model to consult our review.
Yinchuan is the capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and was the former capital of the Western Xia Empire of the Tanguts from the 11th to 13th centuries. They wisely founded the city between a source of water (the Yellow River) and a natural barrier from the Gobi Desert (the Helan Shan mountains). Yinchuan is typically one of those big Chinese cities (1.29 million inhabitants as of 2018) that you’ve never heard of – and neither did I… Its name means silver river in Mandarin, but historians don’t exactly know why. It could be because of the surrounding alkaline land that can appear white some days, or because the Yellow River is clear in these parts and can appear bright.
Muslim Hui people account for a third of Yinchuan’s population with around 500 mosques in town and Arabic-Chinese road signs and cuisine – although I did not spot or taste any. Yinchuan is at the centre of a 23 billion yuan (3.06€ billion or US$3.5 billion) project to build a “World Muslim City” slated for completion in 2020. As such, a lavish theme park celebrating the history and culture of the Hui, China’s largest Muslim ethnicity at 10.6 million people (just above the Uighur in the western Xinjiang region at 10.1 million), has been built south of town and is touted as a “Sino-Arab cultural bridge”. Note that since 2016 Emirates Airlines offers a direct service between Dubai and Yinchuan, making it only the 4th Chinese city to be connected to the UAE directly after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. However my main focus in Yinchuan was to find Baojun, Geely and Haval dealerships and organise test drives so there was no touristic activity of any kind.
Wuling Hongguang in Yinchuan
Onto the actual cars of Yinchuan. Yinchuan is categorised as a Tier 3 city, very roughly meaning its population is between 150.000 and 3 million, however this isn’t the only criteria for ranking cities in Tiers, also taking into account GDP and political importance – see an excellent Tier calculation explanation by the South China Morning Post here. Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities are the real engines of growth in the Chinese new vehicle market as sales in Tier 1 cities are hampered by licence plate restrictions aimed at curbing pollution. The car buying patterns are skewed towards commercial vehicles such as microvans and minivans – mainly the Wuling Rongguang and Hongguang, micro pickups – led by the Wuling Rongguang Mini Truck, and pickups – the Great Wall Wingle 5 being by far the most popular as per national sales.
The second element that is characteristic of lesser-Tier cities is the particular strength of SUVs: there is a proper tsunami engulfing the national sales charts at the moment – and for the past five years – but this is even more apparent in smaller cities that, in a way, justify the ownership of an SUV a little more due to their proximity to the countryside. Not that anyone would use them as 4WDs, but still. And one SUV that has snapped the status of instant blockbuster in Yinchuan is, logically given the dominance of the brand in third and four-Tier cities, the Wuling Hongguang S3 pictured at the head of this article.
It also means that secondary Chinese and Chinese-owned brands are very well represented and over-perform vs. nationally. By secondary brands I mean JAC, Dongfeng and Borgward for example, citing the few that really stood out in Yinchuan. In terms of specific models, stand-outs are the JAC Refine S3, Dongfeng Fengguang S560 and VW Tiguan. Surprisingly, there were very few Baojun 510 – I counted only three in a couple of hours. That was a short one, but we are now on our way inside Inner Mongolia so stay tuned for Part 4 of this 2018 exploitation of China, reaching Bayanhot…