This is Part 8 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, Part 5: The Gobi and Tengger deserts here, Part 6: The cars of Alashan Youqi, Inner Mongolia here and Part 7: The Badain Jaran desert here. For this next iteration we leave the desertic regions of Western Inner Mongolia and travel 350km south-west to Jiayuguan in the Gansu province.
To reach the Gansu province from the Badain Jaran desert we must first zig zag down a barrier of mountains where goats happily roam the highway. Then, it’s a high speed valley all the way through a lunar landscape. It’s on this highway that I spotted the only Lynk & Co 01 I would see in my ten days in China. You can check out my exclusive test drive of the Lynk & Co 02 here. On the way back from Jiayuguan to Yinchuan to the east, I also scored my very first Chinese speed ticket!
Jiayuguan is located at the western extremity of the Great Wall of China – you can see our 2013 exploration of the Badaling section of Great Wall located near Beijing here. The main attraction in town and one of the classic images of Western China is the grandiose Jiayuguan Fort, dating from the Ming dynasty and built out of tamped earth in 1372. It stands like a full stop at the end of the Great Wall. Then, it was seen by the Chinese as the last outpost of civilisation, beyond which lay barbarian country reserved to banished criminals. The fort thus gives the town a very significant strategic importance, even if outdated.
Exploring it confirms the imposing nature of the structure, and a clean and pure architectural style, as well as very well restored buildings following a refurbishment in 2015. But what makes the location awe-inspiring is its surroundings, with a horizon of snowy mountains overhanging in the distance. There are no cars to be observed in the close vicinity of the fort as it is a pedestrian-only area, but I still found a way to amuse myself with a couple of approximative English translations of warning signs, probably word-for-word from Mandarin, revealing the romantic nature of the Chinese language…
Notwithstanding its cultural significance, Jiayuguan is also a relatively sizeable town of 231.000 inhabitants, however in China this doesn’t lift the town higher than Tier 4 level, the lowest of all Tiers. See an excellent Tier calculation explanation by the South China Morning Post here. This Tier level dictates which carmakers operate in town, strongly skewed towards Chinese brands such as Leopaard, Great Wall, FAW and Wuling, relatively rare in the largest cities in the country.
As it is the case in almost all secondary Chinese towns we have visited in the past 5 years, SUVs are the visible engine of growth in Jiayuguan. Changan is particularly strong in town with its CS75 SUV and its sedan lineup as well as the Chana CX70. Contrary to the previous regions we have visited this year, the success of the Haval H6 in Jiayuguan hasn’t really spread towards the rest of the brand’s lineup, except perhaps the H9. Also of note are the Haima S5 and Geely Vision SUV.
Hyundai (Tucson, ix25, new ix35) and Kia (KX3) seem to be the most popular foreign carmakers below Volkswagen. In fact, the taxis of Jiayuguan are mainly various generations of Hyundai Elantra and VW Santana. Pickups remain dominant in town with the Wingle still topping the charts but it is much less frequent than in Bayanhot and Alashan Youqi in neighbouring Inner Mongolia. The novelty is the stream of obscure pickups: JMC, JMCG and JAC brands are frequent.
Confirming our observations in the more remote areas of this exploration, as soon as we return to more densely populated regions, the Wuling Hongguang reclaims its rank near or at the top of the local charts as it is used as an intercity mini bus. The Wuling Mini Truck, a mini pickup derived from the Rongguang microvan, however has my vote as the best-seller in Jiayuguan, a city focused on manufacturing and small businesses which is the perfect environment for this type of vehicles.
Stay tuned for the last iteration of our 2018 Chinese exploration ending in Zhongwei, still in the Gansu province.