This is Part 6 of our 2018 China exploration. You can check out Part 1: The cars of Beijing and using the Didi app here, Part 2: Renting a car in China here, Part 3: The cars of Yinchuan, Ningxia province here, Part 4: The cars of Bayanhot, Inner Mongolia here and Part 5: The Gobi and Tengger deserts here. After having crossed the now merged Gobi and Tengger deserts mainly on a freshly-minted brand-new (but rather useless) highway, my rental VW Lavida and I set camp in Alashan Youqi, also known as Badanjilin in the Alxa League Right Banner, the least populated region of one of the least populated counties in China, home to only 25.430 inhabitants for a resolutely desertic 0.35 inhabitants per km².
Visiting the region as a foreigner has recently been made much easier thanks to the removal of travel permits that used to be mandatory to reach Alashan Youqi and the Badain Jaran desert due to the proximity of the heavily militarised Space City, the location where Chinese satellites are launched. These could take up to one week to organise, rendering the exploration of this part of China something that had to be planned well in advance. Not any more since 2018, which is a welcome move by the Chinese government.
Alashan Youqi is the accommodation base and jumping board to explore the neighbouring Badain Jaran desert with its sumptuous lakes and static dunes, the highest in the world. So somptuous in fact, that it deserves its own Photo Report which will follow this one. The proximity of this desert playground has an influence on the car landscape in town, with an over-representation of hardcore 4WDs such as the Toyota Prado or Tundra pictured above.
But as it was the case in the two previous regions we visited (Bayanhot and the Gobi and Tengger deserts), the most popular vehicle in town is the Great Wall Wingle 5 with its younger brother the Wingle 6 a lot rarer.
Similarly to the neighbouring regions as well, this Great Wall pickup hegemony comes along a long heritage of the brand’s desert-capable SUV, the Hover which has become the Haval H5, of which many examples with blue Haval logo were seen across town. In turn, this popularity has trickled down to less capable but even more successful crossovers the carmaker has launched since, such as the H6, H2 and H7 by order of preference in Alashan Youqi.
The most recent move by Great Wall has been the launch of a semi-premium brand, WEY, and it is already very well represented even in the more remote corners of the country. After spotting one in the parking of my hotel in Bayanhot, I managed to snapped in Alashan Youqi the two WEY models pictured above.
One difference in the Alashan Youqi car landscape compared to our past two stops is the return in form of the Wuling Mini Truck while the national best-seller, the Wuling Hongguang, is starting to point its bonnet a little more frequently due o the fact that we are approaching more densely populated regions in the Gansu province to the south. That’s the cue for the popularity of bare-bones MPVs used as inter-city buses.
Chinese SUVs are particularly popular in Alashan Youqi, with the Changan CS75, Geely Boyue and Geely Vision SUV the most frequent across town and Geely Emgrand, Zotye and Roewe nameplates also well represented.
Changan is also strong in the sedan aisle, notably as taxis, which the Chery strong is very strong in Alahsan Youqi across the entire lineup. A few very well maintained VW Santanas were also roaming in town such as the one pictured above.
Finally as a Tier 4 remote city, Alashan Youqi is the perfect breeding ground for Low Speed EVs, (or LSEVs), these no-permit electric vehicles that are banned from taking the highways. Over 50 brands of LSEVs, distinct from “normal” car manufacturers, already operate in China. Their popularity would go growing as I travelled towards the Gansu province so a proper update will be published then. Above is an example of LSEV: the Levdeo D50 – thanks to our reader AleX who identified this vehicle.
Stay tuned for the next iteration of our Chinese 2018 exploration to the stunning Badain Jaran desert…