Chinese cars are about to become mainstream | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

26th October 2022
Gary Axon

On the main press day at last week’s Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris, within a few moments of arriving in the main exhibition hall, I bumped into a French friend and ex-colleague who I hadn’t seen for a while.


Confusingly, he said: “Welcome to the Peking Motor Show, and probably the last ever Paris Salon…!” Not having had a chance to look around myself, at first I wasn’t too certain what he was talking about, but within minutes of being there, I soon got the message, as there were more Chinese vehicle makers presenting at the Show than French manufacturers!

Mid-October’s 2022 edition of the Mondial de l’Automobile (to the give the Paris Motor Show its full and correct title) was the first to be held post-Covid 19, with the previous Salon – held in 2018 – being huge and occupying each of the nine Porte de Versailles exhibition centre’s vast display halls, as supported by the majority of the world’s leading car brands.


By comparison, this year’s Salon was a shadow of its former self. It was held within just three exhibition halls (and not the largest three at that) with evidence of the current global economic crisis all too apparent. There was none of the usual extravagance and razzmatazz. At the time of writing, Mondial visitors gave a low average rating of 2.3 out of five for the Salon.

Traditionally a showcase for France’s large domestic motor industry, with these always given prominence in the main exhibition hall with non-French manufacturers consigned to the other (lesser) halls. This year’s Salon saw the Renault Groupe (Renault, Dacia, Alpine and its new Mobilize electric mobility brand) dominate the main hall, with just a couple of Stellantis’ French marques (Peugeot and DS Automobiles) taking pride of place in the adjacent hall. Citroën - the traditional star of the Paris Salon where a number of historic and seminal car launches have taken place over the decades, from the Traction Avant in 1934, to the 2CV in 1948, the DS in 1955, SM and GS in 1970, CX in 1974 and BX in 1982 – was not exhibiting at all, for the first time ever since this cult manufacturer was founded in 1919.


In place of the ‘usual’ French manufacturers, and with not a single stand for any of the German, Italian, British, Japanese or South Korean cars makers, the space they vacated was occupied by a bewildering variety of Chinese and South Asian vehicle makers. Most of which were making their French/European motor show debuts, as a very strong signal of intent that the Chinese mean business here in Europe, with a new car invasion set to take place imminently, based on the evidence of Paris.

The majority of the unfamiliar Chinese (and Vietnamese) car makers present in Paris were showcasing their latest, very cosmopolitan and acceptable-to-European tastes, hybrids and all-electric vehicles, with the majority of models being either on-trend SUVs and crossovers. Unknown Chinese car brands such as WEY, Seres, BYD, Leapmotors, ORA, plus Vinfast from Vietnam, had sizeable and impressive display stands filled with curious French car buyers trying a WEY Coffee 01, BYD Tang or Seres 3 out for size. All of these are set to become genuine rivals for their well-known European rivals: the Citroën C5 Aircross, Audi Q5, Ford Kuga, BMW X3, Toyota RAV4, Volvo XC40 and so on.


Based on the vehicles displayed in Paris, this latest-generation of Chinese cars seem to offer promising quality and reasonable value-for-money, and are not machines that most European drivers would be embarrassed to be seen in. Unlike the previous generation of Chinese cars that had tentatively appeared at a couple of previous Pairs Salons, these leaving a lot to be desired. It now seems that the timing is almost perfect to launch these all-new low-emission Asian products on to discerning and receptive European drivers.

Based on the positive reaction of the Paris show-goers to these Chinese cars, there is already some talk in France of applying import restrictions, and/or higher taxation duties, to try and restrict Chinese imports into the Country. In much the same way that France (plus many other European countries) did in the 1970s to curb Japanese imports when the likes of Nissan/Datsun, Toyota and Honda were beginning to steal multiple sales away from the more established, traditional European volume marques.  


Most of the Chinese SUV exhibits looked as anonymous and instantly forgettable as most other vehicles of that ilk. But one Chinese car that really did stand out at the Paris Motor Show was an amusing small electric hatchback that actually possessed a rare and pleasing degree of character to its design: the oddly-named ORA Funky Cat. ORA is giant Chinese vehicle maker Great Wall Motors’ (GWM) mainstream car brand, with the Funky Cat due to be one of the first Chinese passenger cars to go on sale here in the UK. ORA also displayed the Next Cat, a larger five-door EV model, with an unusual rounded style inspired by the Porsche Panamera.

The Funky Cat will join the only other Chinese-built cars currently sold in any volume in both the UK and France; the very-British titled MG3, MG5, ZS and HS (soon to be joined by the funky MG4 EV, plus potentially the MG Marvel 4 crossover that also made its show debut in Paris). These are probably the thin edge of a very large wedge that’s about to be driven through the European car market. We are soon going to be getting very used to seeing Chinese-made cars on our roads.

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