Sat patiently at a set of traffic lights in deepest Berkshire, I recently had an unexpected glimpse into the future.
DEC 16th 2016
Axon's Automotive Anorak: A looming Chinese revolution
Waiting at the lights in front of me was a Great Wall Steed; a Chinese-built pick-up that sells in moderate numbers in the UK. Sat at the lights opposite was a DFSK Loadhopper, a small Chinese light commercial vehicle that has filled the slot vacated by the once-popular tiny Japanese vans a few years ago, such as the Suzuki Carry, Daihatsu Hi-Jet and Honda Acty.
Passing across the stationery traffic under a green light was a new MG 3, the pleasing budget hatchback built both in China and the UK (with production at Longbridge due to cease shortly). So, three Chinese vehicles all sharing British road space in the same place at the same time. What are the chances hey, a foretaste of the near future I think, when many Chinese cars will litter our roads…
With the exception of the rarely-seen electric BYD e6, this trio of Chinese brands represents the entire passenger vehicle offering currently available in the UK from the People’s Republic of China.
Further afield in Continental Europe, a marginally broader range of Chinese cars have been, or remain, available to buy, although actual sales to date have been embarrassingly low.
In the Benelux, for example, Chinese SUV maker Landwind attempted to sell its CV9 Fashion people carrier (inspired by the second-generation Renault Scenic) and the truly awful G6 4x4 (a blatant copy of the old Vauxhall Frontera). Both of these Landwind models performed so badly in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests that they were rapidly withdrawn from the market, not that anyone noticed.
In Italy the JAC UFO was briefly offered too, but sales were halted when Toyota successfully protested that the UFO was a clear, but very poorly-executed, copy of its own RAV4 SUV. One semi-Chinese car brand that has found some success in Italy is low-cost DR Automobiles, a small company that locally assembles (more likely, re-assembles) versions of the small Chinese Chery QQ city car, fittingly badged as the Zero.
More serious Chinese automobile brands such as Brilliance (part-owned by BMW) and Qoros have frequently exhibited at European motor shows, including Geneva and Frankfurt, but as yet these more credible firms have not seriously ventured into the large European or North American export markets, although it is only a matter of time.
The first serious evidence of China’s future plans is the recent announcement by the Chinese vehicle giant, Geely. Geely - the owner of the established European Volvo and LTI (London Taxis International) brands – is set to enter the world’s major export markets next year with its new, export-specific Lynk & Co marque.
This new ‘invented’ brand will arguably be the first serious attempt by China to sell respectable and desirable quality passenger cars beyond China’s own borders. Just wait and see, within the next decade, many of us Brits will be driving Chinese cars, just as we are with Japanese and South Koreans vehicles today. After all, from small acorns…
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