The VW Viloran has landed in China.
It is now time to go through the new locally-produced launches for the month. After two months of pause due to the coronavirus pandemic (2 launches in February, 3 in March), we are back to a normal volume of new models in March with 8 new nameplates hitting the Chinese wholesales charts. Among them, only one sedan, one MPV and 6 SUVs, which confirms the current momentum has switched back to sturdy vehicles, and the 2 EVs also confirm green vehicles are in a bit of a rut right now in China. To thoroughly understand the dynamics at play in China, make sure you consult our Exclusive Guide to all 167 active Chinese Brands – a number that has started to fall as the “first winter of the auto industry” and COVID-19 claim their first victims.
1. Toyota Wildlander (#98 – 4.289 sales)
If both the exterior design and interior cockpit look eerily familiar, that’s because the Toyota Wildlander is in fact a slightly made-up Toyota RAV4, following a long tradition of twin launches in China. The reason behind this is the existence of two Chinese joint-ventures for Toyota: FAW-Toyota and GAC-Toyota. It is common to “give” each joint-venture a twin so their chances of commercial success are levelled. The Toyota C-HR is also sold as the IZOA in China, and both Volkswagen and Honda are also big fans of the twin game (Honda Vezel/XR-V, Avancier/UR-V, Breeze/CR-V, etc).
Toyota Wildlander interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
FAW-Toyota now has the new generation RAV4, and GAC-Toyota gets the Wildlander. It is priced from 171.800 to 241.800 yuan (22.400-31.600€ or US$24.200-34.100), slightly lower than the RAV4 (174.800-258.800) and will compete with the likes of the Honda CR-V (169.800-276.800) and Nissan X-Trail (188.800-273.300), absolute blockbusters as they are two of the best-selling foreign SUVs in China. The RAV4’s all time record volume is 18.592, so Toyota should expect at least 7.500 monthly sales from the Wildtracker, with stunts above 10.000 units a welcome distraction.
Bar for success: 7.500 monthly units
2. Chevrolet Blazer (#204 – 1.493 sales)
General Motors is in the middle of its most aggressive SUV onslaught to-date in China, successively launching the Buick Enclave, new Encore, Encore GX, Chevrolet Trailblazer, new Tracker, Menlo and this Blazer, all in the past 12 months. Although every single one of these vehicles seems tailored-made for the unabated thirst of Chinese customers for SUVs, none of them has hit the mark so far. When the Trailblazer launched last September, we put its bar for success at 6.000 monthly sales, but after starting above 2.000 units, it dropped below 1.000 sales in December and only mustered 131 meagre deliveries this month. Likewise the Tracker is stuck at 233 and the Menlo at 115. Even the Equinox, the brand’s best-selling SUV in North America, is down -44.4% in April in a rebounding market.
Chevrolet Blazer interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
A lot is therefore resting on the muscular shoulders of the Blazer. Priced between 259.900 and 329.900 yuan (33.900-43.100€ or US$36.600-46.500), the Blazer faces off with the likes of the Honda Avancier (220.000-332.800), Ford Edge (229.800-389.800), Toyota Highlander (239.800-325.800) and Mazda CX-8 (258.800-330.800). The Highlander has surpassed the 10.000 monthly wholesales mark before, as has the Avancier, but in light of the poor results of all the brand’s SUVs, Chevrolet can’t afford to be too greedy.
Bar for success: 4.500 monthly units
3. VW Viloran (#238 – 917 sales)
If you thought Volkswagen spent the last two years focusing solely on launching the type of SUV lineup that befits a three-decade Chinese market leader (T-Roc, Tayron, Tharu, T-Cross, Tacqua), you would be… almost right. Here comes the Viloran, an upmarket MPV you didn’t know you needed. Launching it actually showcases a very astute reading of the Chinese market (we shouldn’t expect any less from VW), as it fills an almost empty niche. If the MPV segment is currently freefalling (-36% in April), it’s mainly due to its low-end collapsing, with former blockbusters such as the Baojun 360, 730, Chana Honor and Dongfeng Future now selling a fraction of their years-ago volumes. The mid-end is doing fine thanks to recent Chinese launches such as the GAC Trumpchi GM6 and Geely Jiaji.
VW Viloran interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
But the top-end of the MPV segment remains notably quiet. The Buick GL8 (232.900-529.900 yuan) and Mercedes V-Class (471.800-604.800) are the only two truly sophisticated offers, with the twins Honda Odyssey (229.800-376.800) and Elysion (249.800-328.800) not quite making the cut. This is where the VW Viloran comes in. It is priced from 350.000 to 400.000 yuan (45.700-52.200€ or US$49.300-56.300), so think of it as a VW Touareg MPV, which gives it true blockbuster potential. The Viloran evolves in a completely different sphere as VW’s previous try at the MPV segment, the Touran (151.800-194.800), much smaller, cheaper and less sophisticated. For true VIP transportation, the Viloran instantly appears as a credible and popular choice for the country’s CEOs and prestigious hotel chains.
Bar for success: 5.000 monthly units
4. JAC Jiayue X7 (#264 – 666 sales)
Once one of the darlings of the Chinese public (10th most popular Chinese brand in 2015) with the Refine S3 ranking #3 best-selling SUV that year with 200.000 sales, JAC has since been stretched by significant – and mostly failed – investments in the EV sector. The carmaker has recently tried to restart fresh with a new nomenclature and design language through the Jiayue A5 sedan, launched last November. And surprise: buyers snapped it, with over 6.000 wholesales last December and 5.564 this month. Prudently, JAC now pulls out an SUV equivalent: the Jiayue X7, inaugurating a decidedly more modern appearance for the brand.
JAC Jiayue X7 interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
The cockpit is surprisingly refined (for a JAC) but the price remains appropriately contained: from 89.800 to 119.800 yuan (11.700-15.600€ or US$12.600-16.900), throwing the X7 in the same sandpit as blockbusters such as the Jetour X70 (69.900-122.900), COS X7 (77.700-127.700), Chery Tiggo 8 (88.800-155.900) and BYD Song Pro (89.800-119.800). When the Jiayue A5 sedan launched last November, we placed its bar for success at 4.000 sales which it instantly blasted, so we’ll be a little more demanding for the X7, as JAC currently needs all the volumes it can get to pull out of its marketing hole.
Bar for success: 6.000 monthly units
5. Venucia Star (#288 – 493 sales)
Venucia is a low-cost brand by the Dongfeng-Nissan joint-venture that had impressed with a surprisingly aggresisve-looking D60 sedan back in late 2017. The launch pad has since been rather deserted, with the latest opus being the e30, a rebadge of the Renault City K-ZE. In comes the conservative Star 5-seater SUV, for which Venucia quite visibly took inspiration from DS. Let’s not beat around the bush, the exterior is painfully bland.
Venucia Star interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
But it’s inside that the Star genuinely impresses. It is priced from 109.600 to 149.600 yuan (14.300-19.500€ or US$15.400-21.100), which makes it compete with the true blockbusters of the segment: the Haval H6 (103.000-141.000), Geely Boyue (88.800-156.800), Haval F7 (111.800-151.800) and Changan CS75 Plus (106.900-154.900). Is this too hard a task? It is true that since the spectacular T90, Venucia has lacked visibility in the SUV segment and we don’t think this shy Star will cut the mustard.
Bar for success: 4.000 monthly units
6. Neta U (#337 – 206 sales)
EV-maker Neta has been in market since December 2018 with the boring N01 hatch which peaked at 1.206 wholesales for its launch month. But this was just a dress rehearsal for this new U crossover, which throws the brand in the same group as Xpeng, Weltmeister and LI meaning among the very few Chinese EV startups which volume potential. NIO with its cult-following remains out-of-reach from this small group for now, but this could change soon. Neta truly impresses with this U it started touting at last year’s Shanghai Auto Show, with daring exterior design taking Peugeot’s “croc” light signature to the extreme, and a very neat and sophisticated interior, especially coming from an almost unknown brand.
Neta U interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
The U is priced from 139.800 to 199.800 yuan (18.200-26.100€ or US$19.700-28.100) and faces off with, as we mentioned above, the Xpeng G3 (146.800-199.800) and Weltmeister EX5 (139.800-198.800) but also the GAC Trumpchi GS4 EV (163.800-193.800) and Beijing EX5 (169.900-199.900). Xpeng’s G3 peaked at 2.704 sales in May 2019 and has accumulated 19.406 sales since its December 2018 launch, while Weltmeister’s EX5 peaked at 2.056 both in May and October 2019 and adds up to an almost identical 19.742 units since its February 2019 launch. Neta already has the N01, however unimpressive, under its belt so should aim at bettering these two competitors.
Bar for success: 2.500 monthly units
7. JAC iC5 (#370 – 89 sales)
We spoke about JAC’s attempted “renaissance” above, and this iC5 EV sedan plays right into it as well. Unfortunately, the front end is disappointingly bland (Geometry A anyone?), with only the tail end showing design aggressiveness. Bonus points for trying to emulate Tesla with a seemingly vertical screen in the dash.
JAC iC5 interior. Picture autohome.com.cn
The iC5 is priced from 149.900-175.900 yuan (19.600-22.950€ or US$21.100-24.800) and competes with the likes of the very successful GAC Aion S (139.800-205.800), the failing Geometry A (150.000-190.000), Roewe Ei5 (128.800-161.100) and Beijing EU5 (129.900-171.900). It’s an arduous task, but JAC can count on a solid reputation and experience (for lack of commercial success) in the EV segment to try and lure buyers its way.
Bar for success: 2.000 monthly units
8. Dongfeng Glory E3 (#370 – 89 sales)
We end on theDongfeng Glory E3 EV pointing its bonnet with just 6 sales this month. Priced from 129.800 to 159.800 yuan (16.900-20.900€ or US$18.300-22.500), the E3 will fight with the likes of the Beijing EX3 (119.900-163.900), Geely Binyue (125.800-169.800), GAC GE3 (129.800-139.800) and Yudo π1 (131.800-166.800). Dongfeng is in desperate need of traction in the EV segment and choosing its Glory low-cost sub brand to launch this well-proportioned crossover is rather odd.
Dongfeng Glory E3. Picture autohome.com.cn
The interior is dated and the exterior could have been appealing a few years back but the Chinese have come up with much more attractive designs recently and the E3 risks being overwhelmed, and that’s even before trying to convince a traditional Dongfeng buyer to pay almost double the price they would have forked out for a combustion model, solely for the pleasure of driving an EV. We doubt the E3 will succeed.
Bar for success: 3.000 monthly units
Previous month: China new models March 2020: Changan UNI-T arrives
One year ago: China new models April 2020: Exeed TXL lines up