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Photo Report: The cars of Turpan, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China

1. Chana Star PickupChana Star Pick-up in Turpan, Xinjiang Uyghur – May 2014 (Click on any photo to enlarge)

This is the last iteration of my China 2014 Photo Report series, you can see all previous Reports here. I hope you enjoyed it! After Kuqa we now head 680 km East to Turpan (pronounced Tooloopan), located 150 km South East of Ürümqi the capital city of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Western China. But first in the light of the recent terrorist attacks in Ürümqi I would like to share my sadness and condolences for this tragedy and I really hope the tense situation in the region will be resolved, as these attacks are the work of extremists and do not reflect the Uyghur population’s sentiment towards the Han Chinese. Needless to say my trip ended up being made in the nick of time as travel to Xinjiang Uyghur is now strongly discouraged. Check out this webpage for on the ground updates about the current situation in Xinjiang Uyghur.

2. Turpan street scene 1Turpan street scene

Back to Turpan, and once again this town offers a unique car landscape as well as a unique architecture. Turpan is located at the centre of a fertile oasis and has been an important trade centre for centuries, historically located along the Silk Road’s northern route. As such the buildings and scenery are a unique mix of Southern France vineyards and what I imagine Mauritanian building to look like: tall and made of mud bricks with opening at the top to let the breeze in in scalding hot weather – by far the hottest temperatures I have experienced during this Chinese trip.

China map up to TurpanThe final leg of the trip! 

Now onto the car landscape, and Turpan is symbolic of a Chinese countryside that is rapidly developing, with many signs of wealth in the traffic, building on the brand-new tractors I spotted while crossing the Taklamakan desert. The most popular vehicle in town is by far the new generation Chana Star pick-up, especially the double cab 4WD variant which was also very popular in Hotan. The local Chana dealer indeed is very dynamic in Turpan with many advertising billboards spotted and a huge dealership on the outskirts of town.

3. Great Wall WingleGreat Wall Wingle

In second place I would position the ever popular Wuling Hongguang, once again justifying its national pole position by a very strong presence in the countryside. There were also an above average amount of Wuling Rongguang pick-ups, some of them with huge bull bars (see below), and the Chana Taurustar is also very popular in Turpan.

4. Wuling RongguangStrongly bull-barred Wuling Rongguang pick-up

Illustrating the newfound wealth of the region, shining new 1 ton pick-ups are also plentiful in Turpan, including the ZX Auto Grand Tiger, facelifted Great Wall Wingle, Huanghai Plutus and the Foton Tunland which had been extremely discreet during this entire trip up until the very last leg. Finally a special mention to the BAIC Weiwang 205 MPV, spotted a couple of times hereAll in all, we are looking at a vehicle landscape in Turpan that is 70% Chinese, a very high rate consistent with my previous observations in remote areas further South West.

5. Wuling HongguangWuling Hongguang

This brings to an end my China 2014 Photo Report series, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing and sharing it with you all. We are now moving on to proper strategic analysis based on all my observations on the ground, which was also one of the reasons why I decided to explore more remote parts of the country as regional statistical data is still unavailable for China. So stay tuned for some robust trend analysis for the #1 car market in the world coming very shortly…

6. Turpan street scene 5Turpan street scene

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Photo Report: The cars of Kuqa, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China

1. Dongfeng FengguangCould the Dongfeng Fengguang be the best-selling vehicle in Kuqa? (Click to enlarge)

This is Part 10 of my China 2014 Photo Report series, you can see all previous Reports here. After crossing the Taklamakan Desert, we now arrive in Kuqa (pronounced ‘Kootcher’) on the Northern Silk Road. Kuga is 715 km North East of Kshgar and 755km South West of Ürümqi, still in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Western China. And now that we are back to the North of the region, Chinese cars are back in the game, showing that Hotan was truly unique in the way that its car landscape displayed almost no local brands…

2. Geely MKGeely MK in the Kuqa Grand Bazaar

ZX Auto Pick-ups are flooding the streets again with all generations of the model very successful here, along with the Great Wall Wingle of which I saw two brand new models in a matter of minutes. There are also a lot more Haimas than I have become accustomed to, as well as a few MG6, a car that has traditionally proved a little elusive in my trip so far. But the main striking element of the Kuqa car landscape is to be found in the MPV category…

China map up to KuqaThis is where we are now

Lots of new Wuling Hongguang confirm the ‘countryside’ trend I have observed in almost all towns I visited in Xinjiang Uyghur: the Hongguang has built its national pole position on the back of tremendous success in less populated areas of the country. However for the very first time in the trip, the Hongguang has found its match in the same category: clearly ‘inspired’ from its success, Dongfeng launched the similarly-sized and -priced Fengguang MPV almost one year ago and it has clearly struck a chord with Kuqa car buyers.

4. ZX Auto Grand TigerZX Auto Grand Tiger

In the 2h30 I explored the streets of Kuqa I saw 6 Wuling Hongguang and as many Dongfenge Fengguang, which is more than I saw in any city I visited before in China even though I stayed a few days in some (Beijing, Chongqing and Kashgar)! Given the Hongguang was launched roughly one year before the Fengguang, this could mean the Dongfeng Fengguang leads the Kuqa sales charts whereas it ranks #87 so far in 2014… This success coupled with the huge gains delivered by the Chana Honor this year will form part of a strategic analysis of the Chinese MPV segment to be published shortly.

5. Toyota Vios Polarsun Shenyang SZS6503A2Toyota Vios and Polarsun Shenyang SZS6503A2 (bet you didn’t know that one!)

Kuqa new car buyers are also very fond of the Honda brand, with the all-new CR-V and Crider repeatedly spotted in town, as well as Kia with the Rio and K3 very well represented. Other successful models in Kuqa include the Great Wall Voleex C30, BYD F3, Hyundai Elantra Yuedong, Great Wall Haval H6, Nissan Sylphy & Sunny and Landwind X8, and I spotted one Luxgen5 Sedan.

6. Hyundai Elantra Yuedong Honda CRiderHyundai Elantra Yuedong and Honda CRider

The endless discovery of new Chinese brands and models continue: I discovered the Polarsun Shenyang SZS6503A2 (pictured above) as well as a still unidentified Chinese car (UCC) with only the code name “W8” as a hint (pictured just before the jump). This is where I need your help to identify this car dear readers!

7. Kia K3Kia K3

8. Kuqa street scene 2Kuqa street scene

9. Unknown Chinese car (W8)Dear readers: you turn to find out. What is this car? “W8” was written on the boot.

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Photo Report: Crossing the Taklamakan Desert, Western China

Taklamakan Desert May 2014We are in China. I promise. (Click on any photo to enlarge)

This is Part 9 of my China 2014 Photo Report series, you can see all previous Reports here. We are now heading 840km North-East from Hotan to Kuqa, still in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Western China. This leg of the trip is done by sleeper bus and the entire journey is spent crossing the Taklamakan Desert, the second largest sandy desert in the world after the Sahara! But first to get the right bus ticket. We are in a region where absolutely no one has any notion of English and a large majority of the population does not read Chinese script nor understands Mandarin, so my very sparse knowledge of the language is useless here. As such, what would be considered a mundane purchase can end up taking an entire morning! That’s adventure to you.

China Map up to TalklamakanThis is where it’s all happenin’! 

To add a bit of fun, the city I came from before Hotan (Kashgar) is alternatively called Kashi (pronounced “karsher”) while my destination (Kuqa) is pronounced “kootcher”. Seems different enough, but not in a chaotic bus station. So here I am comfortably installed in what I thought was a sleeper bus to Kuqa only to discover it was actually headed back to Kashgar where I came from… Negotiating my offloading from the bus, the reimbursement of my ticket and the purchase of a new ticket to the right destination involved so many nervous, borderline upset, people and so many attempts at making myself understood that it could genuinely fill an entire episode of The Amazing Race… Indeed even though we are in Uyghur land, the organisation remains rigorously Chinese and a bus with a missing *foreign* passenger at arrival in Kashgar would have put a lot of people in serious trouble. Tip: if all else fails, revert to drawings – universal language. All is well in the end…

Taklamakan Sleeper BusWelcome to the Hotan-Kuqa sleeper bus! (not)

…or so I thought. Only too happy to finally have secured a berth in the correct bus, I figured asking for a spot at the front so I could take pictures of the Desert Highway would push the counter lady over the edge. Surely someone can swap seats with me once inside the bus? Baaaaaad idea. Being the only foreigner in hundreds of km and speaking English automatically categorises me as an American, which in turn automatically categorises me – in this part of the world close to Afghanistan – as being here for the wrong reasons, whichever they are. So at the back of the bus I was, after being solidly told off by the bus driver for trying to sneak my way up…

Taklamakan road signSometimes Chinese script was not even bothered with.

All was not lost fortunately, and I will ask you dear readers to join me in thanking beautiful granny with baby for swapping her berth at the very front of the bus with mine so I could admire the view and share with you this Taklamakan Desert Photo Report. One last interesting event on the trip before I go on to the cars was the Chinese officer at the first check-point asking me twice whether I was ‘Taliban’. (must.shave.tonight.) Wait what? An American Taliban? I’m lost. The tension dropped significantly when the word spread inside the bus that I was French.

Suzuki Lingyang TaklamakanThat would be a looooong taxi ride…

So what cars are travelling across this brand new Desert Highway? The (disappointing?) news is that all cars do, which in turn means pretty much all Chinese vehicles can withstand long desert trips, including the fragile-looking Chana and Wuling minibus and mini pickups. The highway is in excellent shape and freed from any sandy incursion by heavy protections on each side of the road keeping the sand in place. This also means the sand dunes visible from the road are not as ‘pure’ as I wished… Second striking observation was the presence of huge, very new-looking tractors in most tiny villages we passed in the desert, clearly far from missing out on the region’s fast development.

Kia K3 TaklamakanKia K3 on the Hotan-Kuqa Highway, Taklamakan Desert – May 2014

Some of the cars spotted more than once on the crossing include the now traditional Hyundai Mistra, Wuling Hongguang, Kia K3, Great Wall Haval H5 and H6, Toyota Corolla, Skoda Octavia, Honda CR-V, old gen VW Santana (the latter two being the most frequent vehicles in the Taklamakan Desert), Hawtai Santa Fe, first gen Citroen Elysée, Suzuki SX4, Great Wall Voleex C30, Shanghai Englon SC7, both generations Nissan Tiida, Mitsubishi Pajero and Landwind X8. I also spotted my first Chery QQme of the trip, right in the middle of the desert! Next stop: Kuqa… Stay tuned!

Photo Report: The cars of Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China

Toyota ViosBrand new Toyota Vios in Hotan, China – May 2014 (Click on any photo to enlarge)

After exploring the Karakoram Highway – see the updated Photo Report with a full study of the car landscape here – and travelling on the South Silk Road like a Boss, we now arrive in Hotan in the South of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Western China. Hotan is 485 km South-East of Kashgar and 3,200 km West of Beijing. And I have to say Hotan will remain the most Uyghur-influenced town I got to visit during this trip, for two main reasons: firstly the absolutely delicious and very authentic night market where I finally jumped in a devoured almost all there was to eat, and secondly of course the car landscape.

Chana PickupChana Star Pickup

With my hotel strategically positioned above one of the busiest intersections in town, it only took a while to realise that there were nearly no Chinese passenger cars on the streets. After nearing 100% in the more remote parts of the Karakoram Highway, we are back to the opposite situation in Hotan. Mini pick-ups remain Chinese though and I saw a high amount of Chana Star and Wuling Rongguang pick-ups with suspiciously clean bumpers (see above). Either all the mini pick-ups I saw were bought the week before my stay in Hotan or their bumpers have a particularly high resistance to dust…

Nissan TiidaNissan Tiida

In fact, if you ignore these mini pick-ups and blink a few times the Hotan car landscape looks like what I imagine a Central Asian car landscape to look: Japanese and Korean cars everywhere. And most successful of all is Nissan. The current generation Tiida is absolutely everywhere, and is followed closely by the Sylphy and Sunny.

Hotan street scene 2Hotan street scene

Kia SportageKia Sportage

Kia should be the #2 manufacturer in Hotan, with the old gen Kia Sportage, still on the brand’s Chinese catalogue, doing extremely well. Previous gens of models still on sale are actually Kia’s best-sellers here: the Forte and Cerato notably. Same story at Hyundai with the Elantra Yuedong and Hyundai Tucson particularly common. The new Kia Sportage is also very successful, and I spotted the now traditional resident Hyundai Mistra in town.

7. Honda JadeThe Honda Jade successful in the capital of jade: makes sense.

Back to Japanese manufacturers. Hotan’s main source of revenue has been the commerce jade for many centuries, so it only makes sense that the Honda Jade succeeds here: I saw more in a few hours in Hotan than in any other city I visited so far, including Beijing. The Honda City and CRider are also popular, and almost all taxis are green and white Suzuki Lingyang.

13. Hyundai Elantra YuedongHyundai Elantra Yuedong

Toyota is also very successful in Hotan, with the Corolla a best-seller here. As far as luxury choices are concerned, the Toyota Crown and Reiz replace the Audis, ubiquitous in most other Chinese cities I visited but almost inexistent in Hotan.

11. Hotan street sceneHotan street scene

Among the rare popular Chinese passenger cars, let’s pick the perennial Wuling Hongguang, a few more Haima than I have seen in a long time, a couple of Baojun 630, my first Baojun Lechi of the trip and some BYD F0.

8. Kia ForteKia Forte R

10. Chana StarChana Star

9. Hotan Taxi logoDon’t you love this Hotan taxi company’s logo?

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Photo Report: Travelling on the Chinese Silk Road like a Boss

After Kashgar and the Karakoram Highway, we continue on our exploration of the Xinjiang Uyghur province and travel 500km South East from Kashgar to Hotan, following the Southern Silk Road. For this 8 hour-trip you have the choice between bus or shared taxi. I decided to go for the ‘Travelling like a Boss’ option and chose to undergo the desertic journey in a FAW Hongqi!

Hongqi CA7200 Hotan May 2014Mulat and our valiant Hongqi CA7200

Hongqi (pronounced Hongchee) is the luxury Chinese brand by excellence and is the official supplier of parade cars for the Chinese government. I have written how impressed I was by the Hongqi stand at the Beijing Auto Show here. Now I wish I could say I travelled on the all-new $800,000 L5, but I am not that big a Boss yet. Nope, it was simply 1997 Hongqi CA7200, which is in fact none other than a 1982 Audi 100.

As long as the red diamond was standing on the bonnet, I was happy. Flying in the face of all the reported tensions between the Muslim Uyghur population and the Chinese Han, our Hongqi was a microcosm of society and a very happy one indeed. Our driver Mulat was Uyghur but spoke both Uyghur and Chinese, and was very curious to observe my passport at one of the two check points we went through during the trip.

China desert 2Red Hongqi diamond on the bonnet: tick.

The four passengers – the car wouldn’t leave until full which meant we waited 1h30 before being able to take off – were split this way: one Chinese young lady, a Uyghur father and son both wearing traditional hats, and myself. No English was ever spoken during the 8-hour trip, meaning my sign language skills were tested to their full extent! When the Uyghur father learnt I was French he looked mesmerised at first, then very proud I would be travelling with him and so surprised he couldn’t stop repeating the words ‘Faransiya’, Uyghur for ‘France’.

The Chinese lady spoke a bit of Uyghur and vice-versa for the father and son couple speaking a bit of Chinese, and with our driver being multi-lingual, for almost the entirety of the trip our Hongqi was the theatre of many happy conversations. Living this slice of life in remote China that you understand that when it comes to it, everyone just wants to get along.

Mulat driverDriving his Hongqi like a Boss

As for the cars spotted on the way, there weren’t that many to be honest, and travelling on the only highway in the province with numerous tolls along the way, the car landscape was not in any way representative of what sells best in the region, so I will update you on the car landscape in the next city which is Hotan on the Southern Silk Road. I promise for the next article I will publish a map of the province to show you where the heck I am!

Photo Report: On the Karakoram Highway – China side

1. Karakoram Highway at Bulong LakeKarakoram Highway at Bulong Lake (click on any image to enlarge)

After Ürümqi and Kashgar, we continue on our adventure through the Xinjiang Uyghur, China’s Westernmost autonomous region. Today we take the legendary Karakoram Highway on the Chinese side for 450km between Kashgar (altitude 1.260m) and the Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistani border (altitude 4.690m). The Karakoram Highway is sometimes referred to as the world’s eighth wonder as it is the highest paved road in the world. It took 20 years to complete (from 1959 to 1979) and is open to public since 1986.

2. K2The pyramid-shaped mountain in the back is the K2, the world’s 2nd highest summit.

The sights from the highway are simply unbelievable, with mountains climbing very, very high indeed on each side of the road. Actually you can’t climb much higher: a few hundred metres before arriving to the Khunjerab pass you can clearly see the K2 on the horizon, the 2nd highest mountain in the world after Mount Everest at a towering 8.611m… Other notable mountains bordering the Karakoram Highway include the 7.611m Kongur (only conquered in 1981) and the 7.546m Muztagh Ata.

3. Matt Khunjerab PassWearing just a BSCB tee at 4.700m altitude… What I’d do for you dear readers!

One other fascinating aspect of travelling on the Karakoram Highway is going through a mosaic of ethnicities: from Bulong lake onwards the population is Kyrgyz, then after Karakul lake we enter the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County with most women wearing a distinctive squarish hat and red dress. In fact the Tajik border is only about 60km away at Tashkurgan but the crossing is forbidden to foreigners.

4. VW Santana Karakul LakeOne of only two VW Santanas I spotted in the 900 km round trip…

This region is actually a pretty sensitive area, a mix of the close border with Pakistan and regular sprouts of violence connected to tensions between local Uyghurs and the Han Chinese have pretty much killed tourism in the area. So much so that 2 of the 3 Kashgar Travel Agencies recommended by the Lonely Planet had closed down in the year since the book was published, as well as the Kashgar Youth Hostel. But that wasn’t going to stop your favourite blogger from exploring the car landscape in the area…

5. Karakoram Highway 1Highway: not so much at times…

Thanks to Old Road Tours I was able to hire a car and driver to go on the Karakoram Highway all the way from Kashgar to the Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistani border. Our faithful travel companion was a JAC Refine, which is basically a 1997 Hyundai H1 manufactured under license with a JAC logo on the bonnet and the steering wheel, the Hyundai logo still on the back of the van… It was definitely sturdy enough to go through the numerous parts of the ‘Highway’ where we had to go through unsealed terrain as the main highway is in the process of being enlarged.

6. Karakoram Highway 3Karakoram Highway at Angrkule

A survey of over 200 cars passing by at the time the Karakoram Highway leaves the Kashgar plain and gets into truly mountainous terrain showed two-thirds of all vehicles on the Highway are… Chinese! Yes this has finally happened, it took going to quite a remote area in the country to see Chinese carmakers take the advantage.

7. Karakoram Highway 4Karakoram Highway between Tashgurkan and the Khunjerab Pass

Granted, 25% of all Chinese vehicles on the Highway are rather new heavy trucks used for the huge construction work currently happening over the first 150 km, and roughly 15% are bruised and battered FAW Tianjing Xiali, but still. 60% of non-Chinese vehicles are good old VW Santanas, confirming a trend I started spotting in Kashgar. Interestingly, I did not spot a single old VW Jetta whereas this vehicle was close to the top of national sales charts for at least a decade in the nineties and noughties…

8. Karakoram Highway 5

The bustle of Kashgar may be well over and done with, but the Wuling Hongguang keeps popping up in the countryside. In fact it has become pretty much the only new car I saw once getting into truly remote area. The only other relatively new model that appears a few times is the Suzuki Lingyang. The more remote we get, the more Chinese the vehicles become and the higher the old VW Santana share of non-Chinese vehicles.

9. Huanghai SteedHuanghai Steed after a life-changing cleanup

In-between towns on the highway, the traffic becomes almost 100% Chinese with lots of pick-ups, led by the Great Wall Wingle, ZX Auto Grand Tiger and JMC all generations. During the entire 900 km trip, I only saw two new generation VW Santana and two new VW Lavida! I was very interested to spot one police and one military BAW Jeep (see below the ‘Read more’ jump for more), and couldn’t help noticing that most Mitsubishi Pajero I saw were in fact Liebao-branded. The Toyota Highlander is the most frequent large 4WD on the highway, and SUVs are here en masse: Great Wall Haval H5 and H6, quite a few Landwind X8 and 3 Ford Kugas passed us by on the trip.

10. Tashkurgan street sceneTashgurkan street scene

At 3,094m altitude, Tashgurkan is the last town before the border with Pakistan and the head of the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous Country populated at 85% of Tajik inhabitants. In town the Wuling Hongguang should top the sales charts, followed closely by the ZX Auto Grand Tiger. I also saw two Dongfeng Fengguang MPVs which is the most I saw in one town so far, and noticeably more Chery Cowin 2.

11. Shanghai Englon SC6 Taxi TashkurganShanghai Englon SC6 taxi in Tashkurgan

There were also a lot of brightly coloured taxis in Tashkurgan, including many old VW Santana, and a few BYD L3 and Shanghai Englon SC6. Interestingly, by then most old Santanas are taxis, not so many are private in town. There is a very strong heritage of FAW Tianjin Xiali which I have to say is actually quite reassuring as this model was one of the only ones on sale in China for a long time along the traditional VWs, so this is where they all are!

12. Wuling Hongguang JAC RefineWuling Hongguang and our very own JAC Refine in Tashkurgan

13. BYD F3BYD L3 taxi in Tashkurgan

14. Great Wall Wingle HoverGreat Wall Wingle and Hover H5 on the Karakoram Highway

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Portal to China 2014 20 Photo Reports here

Kashgari man Jonway UFO A380Kashgari man in Kashgar animal market.

This is the portal for all China 2014 Photo Reports, you can find the links to all of them here and I will update this post as more Reports come through! All links to the Beijing Auto Show 2014 Photo Reports are also below.

The cars of Turpan, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China (published 21 May 2014)

The cars of Kuqa, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China (published 20 May 2014)

Crossing the Taklamakan desert, Western China (published 16 May 2014)

The cars of Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China (published 16 May 2014)

Travelling on the Chinese Silk Road like a Boss (published 10 May 2014)

On the Karakoram Highway – China side (published 8 May 2014)

The cars of Kashgar, South-Western China (published 2 May 2014)

The pick-ups of Kashgar, South-Western China (published 1 May 2014)

The cars of Ürümqi, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China Part 2 (published 28 April 2014)

The cars of Ürümqi, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China Part 1 (published 27 April 2014)

The cars of Chongqing, Central China (published 25 April 2014)

A voyage into Beijing hutongs (published 23 April 2014)

Beijing Auto Show 2014 reports:

Beijing 2014: First impressions

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #30 to #26 (including Denza and Chery)

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #25 to #21 (including Lifan and JMC)

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #20 to #16 (including MG and Geely)

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #15 to #11 (including BYD and Wuling)

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #10 to #6 (including JAC and Venucia)

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmakers #5 to #2 (including Dongfeng and Haima)

Beijing 2014: The most impressive Chinese carmaker: Haval

Photo Report: The cars of Kashgar, South-Western China

Kashgari man Jonway UFO A380Kashgari man and Jonway UFO A380

After exploring the extraordinary pick-up landscape in Kashgar, some 3.400km away from Beijing in South-Western China, we now go into its overall car landscape. In Chinese classification, we have gone from first-tier city (Beijing), 2nd-tier (Chongqing), 3rd-tier (Ürümqi) and now with Kashgar we are at county-level. Although there is now way we can generalise the observations I made in each city to the whole of the country, its gives us a slice of what the Chinese car market looks like as we get into smaller cities and into the countryside, and the differences are massive.

ChangAn EadoChangAn Eado in Kashgar Old Town

In Kashgar the new car to total landscape ratio is much smaller than in Ürümqi, but similarly around 40% of traffic is Chinese – buses and taxis not included. So even though we are the furthest we can be from Beijing, loyalty to local brands is still way stronger than in the capital. However at this stage it is impossible to say whether national loyalty is more of a necessity than a choice: at equal spec, a Chinese model tends to be much cheaper than a foreign one. As usual there is no black and white answer and I would say it is a 60% necessity and 40% choice split.

Kashgar BazaarKashgar Sunday bazaar

Tellingly, the composition of the landscape varies greatly from Ürümqi, especially on the non-Chinese side, with a lot more new Korean models and old VW Santanas. When you add the fact that almost all taxis are either Santana or Santana Vista and that taxis represent roughly 1 in every 4 cars in circulation in Kashgar, that’s a lot of old VWs on the streets indeed.

VW Santana new and oldTwo generations of VW Santana

If taxi companies seem to be moving on to new Jetta (more) and new Santana (less), the public is yet to be convinced. The valiant 1986 Santana is still by very far the most common private Volkswagen, a testimony of almost two decades of domination of the Chinese sales charts and 3 million units produced. Watching the Kashgari car landscape reminds you that the Santana is the car that kick started the Chinese automotive industry, and this observation shows a lot of Santana buyers in Kashgar haven’t had the need or the budget to replace them yet. When it ain’t broke, why replace it?

VW Jetta taxiVW Jetta taxi

If I estimated the new Jetta to lead the Ürümqi sales charts, I only saw a couple of private new Jetta and Santana in Kashgar, and a few more new Lavida, Sagitar, Magotan and Passat, but Volkswagen is nowhere near the market share it held in Beijing, Chongqing and Ürümqi. This makes the decision to build a factory and start assembling Santanas in Ürümqi to regain the budget end of the market in the Xinjiang Uyghur province all the more relevant.

VW SantanaFirst generation VW Santana in Kashgar Old Town

Another observation that chips away at the Volkswagen Group’s domination nationally is the near-absence of Audis in Kashgar, in frank contrast with Beijing and Chongqing, even though we started witnessing the brand’s decline in Ürümqi. That doesn’t mean there are no luxury cars in Kashgar, but the choice of wealthier car buyers seems to be more oriented towards higher-end Japanese models like the Toyota Land Cruiser, Prado, Highlander, Crown or Camry.

Nissan TiidaThe Nissan Tiida is among the top-sellers in Kashgar

There are nearly no new Fords here except a few new gen Kuga and as mentioned earlier more Hyundais and Kias. But the biggest difference with the rest of the cities I visited so far is the surprising strength of Nissan, potentially the #1 brand outright in town, fighting with Wuling. There is a very strong heritage of Tiida and a lot of Livina and Qashqai as well. Honda is selling a very large number of new gen CR-V and Suzuki is the third over performing Japanese brand in town with lots of Lingyang and already quite a few S-Cross spotted.

Chery QQ Kashgar 3Popular: two Chery QQ in Kashgar old town

Among Chinese manufacturers, the particularity of Kashgar is the solid heritage of Chery QQ, especially in the Old Town where they basically form half of the car landscape – note the Old Town is getting smaller and smaller though. Although I spotted 3 new gen QQ, the diminutive model seems to have lost the battle of the minis to the ChangAn Benben Mini lately. Chery stays strong in new cars through the E5, Tiggo 5 and Cowin 1.

Shanghai Englon SC7Shanghai Englon SC7

That’s it for the brands, now onto the best-selling new cars in Kashgar. As always it is extremely difficult to estimate this with any kind of reliability based on just the cars I saw in 72 hours, but here goes. I would say the Wuling Hongguang, Nissan Tiida, Kia K2, Chana Taurustar and Shanghai Englon SC7 are all fighting for the top spot.

Wuling HongguangWuling Hongguang

If most models were also strong in Ürümqi, it is fascinating to notice the progressive gearing-up of the Wuling Hongguang the more we go into the hinterland, confirming that its national pole position has a lot to do with success outside the biggest cities in the country.

Great Wall Voleex C30Watching the Great Wall C30s go by…

Other models that could pretend at a Top 10 spot in Kashgar include the Honda CR-V, Chana Minibus, ChangAn CX20, Kia Sportage previous and current gen, both still on sale in China, Great Wall Voleex C30, Chana Honor, GAC Trumpchi GS5, Nissan Qashqai, Honda City and Landwind X5. That’s 8 Chinese models vs. 7 non-Chinese, confirming the strength of local brands in the Chinese hinterland.

Chana MinibusChana Minibus

Other popular new models in Kashgar include the SsangYong Korando, Shanghai Englon SC6, Chevrolet Sail, ChangAn Eado, Hyundai Tucson, Great Wall Voleex C10 and Haval M4, BYD F3 Surui, GAC Gonow Aooseed G5, Jonway UFO A380, Hyundai ix35 and Elantra Yuedong. Let’s also note quite a few Chevrolet Malibu, ChangAn CS35, BYD S6, JAC Refine S5 and Liebao/Leopaard Q6 (aka Mitsubishi Pajero). I also spotted one Hyundai Mistra already as well as two Ford F150 Raptor, my first Liebao CS6, two Linian S1 and one Iran Khodro Sahir (aka Samand). Remember we are closer to Tehran than Beijing!

GAC Trumpchi GS5GAC Trumpchi GS5

Lastly a lot of you have asked about pollution levels in Chinese cities. Well in Kashgar a mix of questionable exhaust fumes and heavy dust had me yearn for a high pressure shower at the end of each day like rarely I ever have in my life! It’s simple, the mere fact of stepping outside instantly covers you with a thin layer of dust and as far as cars are concerned the only time they are clean is within 5 minutes of having been washed – at most.

Kashgar Electric scootersElectric scooters in Kashgar

Kashgar’s solution to pollution for now is to seemingly make all scooters available here electric. The fact is there are way more scooters than cars in town so it gives for a weirdly futuristic experience of walking down the street with completely silent scooters whizzing past all around you at breakneck speed… Some electric scooter brands I noticed include Huawin, Benod, Hong Psi, Xuanma, Yadea and Luvju.

That’s all for Kashgar! I hope you enjoyed. Next we go on the legendary Karakoram Highway to stop just short off the Pakistani border, so stay tuned!

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Photo Report: The Pick-ups of Kashgar, South-Western China

2. Chana PickupGuarding his Chana pick-up with pride. (Click on any photo to enlarge)

After BeijingChongqing and Ürümqi, as promised we are now headed 1.080km South-West to the hinterland of the hinterland: Kashgar, China’s westernmost city and predominantly populated by Muslim Uyghurs. To give you a rough idea of what Kashgar looks like, the city stood in for Kabul in Afghanistan in the movie The Kite Runner which was filmed here. In fact, if Kashgar is 3400 km away from Beijing (by air), only 816km separate it from Kabul, 722km from Peshawar in Pakistan, 2200km from Tehran and 2900km from Baghdad. Kashgar is also at a focal point between 4 countries, only 165 km from the Kyrgyz border, 220km from the Tajikistan border and 450 km from the Pakistani border.

China Map. Picture courtesy of ezilon.comThe blue dot is Kashgar

I visited parts of town like the livestock bazaar and a few commercial side alleys where there were almost only pick-up trucks. And there was such a bewildering array of little-known brands and models that I thought it warranted a post on its own to start sharing this remote Chinese experience with you. In the 3 days I spent in town, the only non-Chinese pick-ups I spotted were a dozen Isuzu TF, a couple of Nissan D22 a two Ford F150 Raptor (!?) – not a single Toyota Hilux. The rest, hundreds of them, were all Chinese pick-ups, and if at first some of them look familiar, a closer look shows it’s actually a Chinese brand that for some I didn’t even know existed. I always say you never stop learning with the Chinese car market, but this has never been as true as for the Kashgari pick-up landscape, and I had to enlist the help of to decipher the name of some…

3. Dongfeng Pickup 4WDDongfeng Pick-up at Kashgar livestock bazaar

Kashgar’s Sunday livestock market is by far the biggest in the region and attracts farmers from the entire district. It’s one of the most authentic markets I have ever had the chance to visit and you better watch out for loose cows and galloping horses on a ‘test ride’ to avoid getting impaled or stumped on! I was the only foreigner in the market – and actually one of only a couple of foreigners in the entire 500,000 inhabitant-city – and triggered more than a few curious looks. Almost all returned my smile and responded to my ‘as-salaam aleikum’ as I quickly learnt a ‘Ni hao’ (Chinese for hello) was only met with a blank stare. Most Uyghurs don’t speak Chinese.

14. Sheep farmers KashgarSheep farmers at the Kashgar Sunday livestock bazaar

This simply means you have to add one line written in Arabic script on top of the Chinese one on your note to taxi drivers to be sure you arrive at the right destination. Simple, right? Back to the livestock bazaar, literally pick-up heaven. Among mini pick-up trucks, the default choice is either Chana or Wuling Rongguang, with a myriad of other options on display including very similar-looking Jinbei and Dongfeng pick-ups and my first Lifan pick-up spotted here. Heavy pick-up brands include Foton Forland, Howo and unbeknownst to me until then Yuejin.

1. ZX Auto Grand TigerZX Auto Grand Tiger

Among one ton pick-ups in the category of the Toyota Hilux, the very similar-looking ZX Auto Grand Tiger is king in Kashgar, with both previous and current generations well represented as well as the previous gen Hilux lookalike ZX Auto Admiral. ZX Auto has built a very strong reputation in Chinese rural areas thanks to these two models, and also thanks to huge branding on the back of each pick-up, once again a la Toyota, something only Jinbei and sometimes Foton do as well.

ZX Auto AdmiralZX Auto Admiral

JMC YuhuJMC Yuhu

The first generation JMC Baodian, basically a slightly modified 1992 Isuzu TF, is the second most popular pick-up in Kashgar. However JMC buyers seem to have transferred onto the 2013 Yuhu rather than the new generation Baodian, much less frequent.

Great Wall Wingle 2013. Picture courtesy of Great Wall Wingle

In third position I would place the Great Wall Wingle, the best-selling pick-up nationally for the past 16 consecutive years, and I learnt in Kashgar that it had got a 2nd facelift with quite a lot of the new models already circulating in town. The Great Wall Deer, another pick-up looking very much like the previous generation Toyota Hilux, is also very popular.

4. JAC Reni 5. Huanghai Plutus 6. CHTC Tuteng T1A family air… Chevrolet Colorado? Nope, JAC Reni, Huanghai Plutus and CHTC Tuteng T1

But all these pick-ups you know already if you are a regular BSCB reader, so here is some exoticism for you. Even though it officially has never been on sale in China, the American Chevrolet Colorado has fathered a few children here in the form of the JAC Reni, Huanghai Plutus and CHTC Tuteng T1. You’re welcome. CHTC stands for China High-Tech Group Corporation, and the carmaker has just launched the Tuteng T3, a pick-up truck mimicking the last generation… Great Wall Wingle!

7. Kawei K1The title of most impressive lookalike goes to the Kafei K1, with a distinct air of Ford F150.

8. Tianqi Meiya Lucheng TN1020A 9. Jinbei SY1025Tianqi Meiya Lucheng TN1020A (top) and Jinbei SY1025 (bottom)

The Isuzu D-Max also has a lot of children in China, including the Tianqi Meiya Lucheng TN1020A (all this), Jinbei SY1025, Foton SUP, Xinkai HXK1021, Gonow Troy, Dadi BDD1022 and a dozen more under as many obscure brands! The Huanghai Landscape (pictured below the jump), a kind of first generation Kia Sorento pick-up, is also very frequent in town, as is the Dongfeng Rich based on the Nissan D22 that Dongfeng also produces.

10. Wuling Rongguang PickupWuling Rongguang Pick-up

11. Unidentified PickupHeibao HFJ1027. Thanks Milos for the tip!

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Photo Report: The cars of Ürümqi, Xinjiang Uyghur, Western China (Part 2/2)

Hyundai VernaHyundai Verna in Ürümqi (click on any picture to enlarge)

This is Part 2 of my Ürümqi Photo Report, you can check out Part 1 about the surprising strength of budget Chinese brands here.

Yesterday I reported on how the Shanghai Englon SC7, SC3 and SC6, Dongfeng Fengshen S30 and H30 Cross and the Great Wall Voleex C30 all stroke a chord with Ürümqi car buyers, shedding light on the preferences of the capital province furthest away from Beijing. However these models, although ranked high, would struggle to top the Ürümqi sales charts outright.

Urumqi Street SceneÜrümqi centre

The new generation VW Jetta is particularly successful here and I would bet on it holding the pole position in Ürümqi based on what I saw in 24 hours, keeping in mind remained within the centre of town most of the time which puts a bias on my observations.

VW Jetta TaxiVW Jetta Ürümqi taxi

Still in line with the budget trend described in Part 1, the Jetta should be battling with the Hyundai Elantra Yuedong (previous generation) for the top spot. Korean carmakers are more successful here than they were in Chongqing and Beijing, with the Hyundai Verna, Kia K2, Sportage, K3 and Hyundai Elantra Langdong (current gen) also very popular in this order.

Kia K3Kia K3

VW SantanaThe VW Santana is now assembled in Ürümqi

The new generation VW Santana, assembled in town since August 2013, is starting to show its bonnet as well and will almost certainly reach the podium in the coming year. Other models towards the budget end of the scale I noticed more often here include the Chevrolet Sail and Skoda Octavia.

Nissan SylphyNissan Sylphy

Nissan confirms it is the favourite Japanese brand nationally by a very strong presence in Ürümqi, notably of the recently launched Sunny and Sylphy. The Qashqai is a lot more frequent than anywhere I’ve been before. Weirdly in China it is still a slightly facelifted version of the very first model, not the one sold in Europe until early this year and not even close to the 2nd generation yet.

Toyota PradoToyota Prado

A few “off-budget trend” observations, I have called them “steppe trends” as they tend to be similar to what I observed in Siberia and Mongolia last year, two regions that are not too far from Ürümqi. The Buick Encore has started with a bang here and is already very frequent in town, as is the new generation Hyundai Santa Fe. I also spotted more Toyota Land Cruiser and Prado than their national sales would suggest, as well as one Ford F150 Raptor and one Toyota Tundra!

Renault KoleosSurprise: Ürümqi car buyers are very fond of the Renault Koleos.

One very interesting observation that will please French fans: I was very surprised to see many Renault Koleos in town, about 10 in only a few hours. Given they have to be imported at high cost, this is a very encouraging trend for the French manufacturer which will start production in China shortly. Similarly to neighbouring Russia and Kazakhstan, the Renault Duster should sell like hot cakes here!

Honda AccordHonda Accord near Ürümqi Bazaar

Finally Honda (considered as premium in China) is very strong here with the City, Crosstour, Accord and particularly the CR-V all hitting the mark. Range Rover is doing a killing here especially with the new model and the Evoque. There is still a healthy amount of Audis notably the A6L but way less than in Beijing and Chongqing. However this may change soon as Ürümqi gets wealthier and Audi launches cheaper products: I even saw my first A3 sedan of the whole trip here.

Next we go further out: into the hinterland of the hinterland… So stay tuned…

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