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China March 2019: Focus on the all-new models

As per the BSCB tradition, after covering March sales in detail, it’s now time to focus on the all-new locally produced launches so you can stay on the bleeding edge of the the fastest-evolving automobile market in the world. Note this update is based on wholesales figures, and sometimes new nameplates appear first in the retail data, that’s the intricacies of the sometimes convoluted Chinese market. We have 7 new launches in March, and illustrating the return in force of the sedan segment, 4 of them belong to that category vs. 2 SUVs and 1 MPV. You can stay up-to-the-minute on the fast-expanding list of all active Chinese brands by consulting our Exclusive Guide to all 180 Chinese Brands, updated live.

1. Chevrolet Monza (#41 – 12.402 sales)

Chevrolet has gone on a very aggressive renewal of its Chinese lineup starting with the Equinox and Orlando SUVs and continuing with the replacement of the Cavalier by the Onix and this new Monza that slots just above it and below the Cruze. As it was the case or the Cavalier, GM has resuscitated an old nameplate it used from 1975 to 1980 in the US, 1982 to 1996 in Brazil and 1994 to 2004 in Mexico. The Monza is therefore back, and already with a very loud bang: 12.402 wholesales for its first appearance in the Chinese ranking is a new record for any new launch here, the previous best being achieved by the Baojun 730 at 12.006 in August 2014. Although strong start don’t mean much for the ultimate career of the nameplate, Chevrolet had also had a very strong start with the Cavalier at 9.741 units in September 2016.

Chevrolet Monza interior. Picture

Putting even more weight into this record start is the fact that the Monza is entering a very crowded marketplace. Priced very competitively between 89.900 and 119.900 yuan (US$13.400-17.900 or 11.900-15.900€), the Monza will be fighting the Hyundai Celesta (79.900-115.900), Nissan Sylphy (99.800-161.500), Toyota Corolla (105.800-172.800) and no less than the overall Chinese market’s best-seller the VW Lavida (107.900-161.900), and GM’s very own Buick Excelle (109.900-143.900). Given this is a new nameplate not replacing any, selling over 10.000 units on average is a satisfying target that the Monza has already reached. Now to maintain that level in the long term…

Bar for success: already reached

2. Geely Jiaji (#168 – 3.085 sales)

We’ve seen Geely’s very first MPV appear in the retail sales a couple of months ago and now the logic is respected with a very solid first month above 3.000 units. As surprising as it seems given Geely has been the #1 Chinese brand at home for the past couple of years, it had no entry in the MPV segment until now. As always, Geely doesn’t do things in halves and innovate with a very stylish design that almost makes the segment fashionable again. And that’s the issue here: MPV sales have been in freefall for a while now and it has become a very difficult market to generate high volumes in.

Geely Jiaji interior. Picture

Priced between 99.800 and 148.800 yuan (US$14.900-22.250 or 13.200-19.700€), the Jiaji isn’t particularly cheap even by Geely standards, but the brand will rely on the increasingly aspirational status it commands at home to convince buyers. The Jiaji competes with the equally sharply-designed BYD Song MAX (79.900-129.900), the Maxus G50 (86.800-156.800), GAC Trumpchi GM6 (109.800-159.800) and the pricier Buick GL6 (139.900-166.900). We’d want over 6.000 sales on a regular basis to declare Geely MPV-savvy.

Bar for success: 6.000 monthly sales

3. VW T-Cross (#180 – 2.930 sales)

After having almost totally missed the SUV tsunami that has engulfed the Chinese market since the start of the decade, Volkswagen is catching up on lost time in incredibly fast fashion, having launched 3 new entries in the segment in the past 10 months and to great success, even though it has been to the detriment of Tiguan sales. The T-Roc has garnered 72.015 wholesales since June 2018, the Tayron 41.403 since September and the Tharu 49.544 in the same period. With almost 3.000 wholesales for its vey first appearance, the smaller T-Cross based on the Polo seems to be headed the same way, but if its small size may handicap it at some point, its very keen pricing marches almost identically the blockbuster tandem Hona Vezel/XR-V which is an excellent starting point.

VW T-Cross interior. Picture

Priced from 127.900 to 159.900 yuan (US$19.100-23.900 or 16.900-21.200€), the T-Cross indeed sticks like glue to the Honda XR-V (127.800-162.900) and Vezel (128.800-189.800), and significantly undercuts the Toyota C-HR (141.800-178.800) and IZOA (146.800-175.800) as well as the larger Skoda Karoq (139.900-177.400) while the Geely Binyue (78.800-118.800) will aim at stealing a few sales as well. The trio of 2018 launches has all shot to around 10.000 units, with the T-Roc reaching a record 10.009 this month, the Tayron 10.252 last December and the Tharu being the best performer at 12.608 last January, we’ll be a little more lenient for the T-Cross simply because its small size can be off-putting for a certain category of Chinese buyers.

Bar for success: 8.000 monthly sales

4. Toyota Avalon (#223 – 2.132 sales)

Toyota is on fire in China in 2019, scoring the largest year-on-year gain among the Top 10 brands at +14.4% thanks to great performances at every step of its lineup, whether it be from its bargain basement such as the Yaris L Sedan (+53.2%) and Yaris L (+41.6%), ageing volume makers such as the Levin (+49.5%), new generations such as the Camry (+21%) and evergreen SUVs such as the Prado (+24.5%) and Highlander (+13.3%). In other words, there’s no real need for added help, but here comes a nameplate new to China but very familiar in North America that could turn out to be a blockbuster in the making: the Avalon.

Toyota Avalon interior. Picture

Priced from 208.800 to 289.800 yuan (US$31.200-43.300 or 27.600-38.350€), the Avalon overlaps almost entirely with the Camry (179.800-279.800) which is not great, but will count on its ultra-aggressive, Lexus-inspired snout to lure the more affluent Chinese buyer. Keep in mind Lexus constantly fights for supremacy in the imported brands ranking and this could be a cheaper but as alluring option for this clientele. It will go against the Honda Accord (168.800-259.800), VW Magotan (184.900-282.900) and Buick La Crosse (229.800-309.800) while the Audi A4 (286.800-407.000) seems a little out-of-reach. If the Avalon has always disappointingly remained in the shadows of the Camry in the US, China is a large enough market to give breathing space to both nameplates and Toyota could be onto another winner with the Avalon. To declare it so, we need at least 7.000 sales.

Bar for success: 7.000 monthly sales

5. Jetour X90 (#235 – 1.800 sales)

There’s no two ways about it: with 67.295 sales of its unique model the X70 over its first 7 months in market (since last September), Jetour has succeeded WEY (2017) and Lynk & Co (2018) to become the best-selling brand launch of the past 12 months in China. It’s now time to expand the lineup and after the X70S included in X70 sales, here is the larger X90, also offering 5, 6 or 7 seats and a much more attractive design which makes it potentially even more promising than the X70. I will study the reasons behind Jetour’s fantastic success in an exclusive coverage of the Shanghai Auto Show, so stay tuned on that subject…

Jetour X90 interior. Picture

As expected, the X90 is priced extremely competitively at 79.900-141.900 yuan (US$11.950-21.200 or 10.600-18.800€) to be compared with 69.900-120.900 for the X70. That puts it in the same sandpit as the Changan CS75 (79.800-174.800) while being cheap enough not to be too threatening for its cousin the Chery Tiggo 8 (98.800-142.800), but still aiming at nabbing some sales from the ultimate blockbusters in the SUV segment such as the Haval H6 (102.000-134.000), F7 (109.000-149.000) and Geely Boyue (98.800-161.800). The X70 has placed the benchmark almost impossibly high, but to confirm Jetour is here to stay the X90 will undoubtedly have to deal with the X70’s upcoming decline and aim at at least 6.000 monthly units.

Bar for success: 6.000 monthly sales

6. JAC iEV7 (#251 – 1.516 sales)

JAC offers us yet another cheap EV with a confusing name, the iEV7 being a small sedan priced from 83.500 to 89.500 yuan (US$12.500-13.400 or 11.050-11.800€). It slots underneath the iEV7S (93.500-115.500) which as its name doesn’t let know is a small SUV and competes with such volume makers as the BAIC BJEV EC3 (65.800-71.800) and BYD Song EV (79.900-139.900). The iEV7 will need to become one of the best-selling EVs in the market if it wants to salvage JAC from oblivion, which seems highly unlikely as the iEV7S only reached 2.558 units in the overinflated month of December 2018.

Bar for success: 5.000 monthly sales

JAC iEV7 interior. Picture

7. Honda Envix (#336 – 534 sales)

Honda is engaged in two joint-ventures in China with Dongfeng and GAC and this has resulted is a growing list of twins: the Honda Vezel (GAC) and XR-V (Dongfeng), Avancier (GAC) and UR-V (Dongfeng), City (GAC) and Gienia (Dongfeng), as well as Accord (GAC) and Inspire (Dongfeng). Given the formidable success of the first generation Crider (GAC) which has sold over 100.000 annual units ever since its 2013 launch, for the 2nd model Dongfeng has demanded – and obtained – a twin, baptised Envix.

Honda Envix interior. Picture

Priced from 99.800 to 136.800 yuan (US$14.900-20.500 or 13.200-18.100€), it plays in the same pool as the Chevrolet Monza (see above) and therefore competes with compatriots such as the Nissan Sylphy (99.800-161.500) and Toyota Corolla (105.800-172.800). If the Crider peaked at 26.387 units in December 2014, Dongfeng should be more conservative as the Envix is coming to market with a 6-year delay and probably won’t benefit as much from the “twin effect” that has kept sales of simultaneous launches Vezel/XR-V and Avcancier/UR-V relatively close. Crossing the 5.000 unit-milestone will be a good start.

Bar for success: 5.000 monthly sales

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