Japanese brands were the biggest draw on the day, not because of their model launches but because of territorial issues between China and Japan. Chinese consumers have reacted strongly to the perceived slight by avoiding Japanese products. Sales for Japanese brands across China are down 50 per cent.
Guangzhou is considered the back yard of the Japanese car brands in China; both Toyota and Honda have partnerships with Guangzhou Auto, and Nissan is in the next province but sees strong sales in Guangdong province.
Toyota announced it was a strong friend of China. Honda and Nissan had similar messages, promising to work together to find peaceful solutions. But the underlying message was: we need to increase our sales.
MG launched the MG6 diesel for the first time in China. It’s unclear if it will be sold in China or if the Guangzhou show was a platform to promote the firm’s technological progress. Oddly, the car, badged locally as MG6 DESL, was launched surrounded by black smoke.
The electric Roewe E50 was shown to the public after a small launch in Shanghai last month. The E50 is SAIC’s first production electric car and is rumoured to become an MG at a later date. A full charge will provide a 118mph range, and will take 30 minutes to achieve an 80 per cent charge. A full charge will take six hours. Performance is below average, with a 0-62mph time of 14sec and by local standards it’s expensive, at 230,000RMB (£23,000).
Peugeot’s elderly 207 (it’s actually a 206 with a 207 face grafted on) was turned into a crossover by the addition of black plastic cladding and roof rails, a common tactic in China. The much-needed 208 is supposedly coming late next year, so the crossover has to maintain the car’s profile until then.
Peugeot and Citroen have been slow to provide for the Chinese market. Chinese consumers like thrifty petrol engines and automatic gearboxes; Peugeot sold cars with four-speed gearboxes and fairly inefficient petrol engines, hampering initial sales. This is now changing, especially with the locally made 3008, tailored more to Chinese buyers with 2.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre turbo engines along with a six-speed automatic ’box.
Ford launched its revamped Fiesta as the ‘All new Ford Fiesta’ with the latest wide grille from the European Mondeo. The Chinese media seems to like the car, which it's called the ‘People’s Aston Martin’. The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder will replace the 1.6 petrol.
Ford also showed a Focus ST, although there are no immediate plans to sell the car in China. Ford often shows cars that may or may not be coming here, which helps to create headlines and interest in the brand, although there is the option of a locally made Golf GTI, available now.
The Focus is sold alongside the last generation of the car, called Focus Classic, and the two models are generating serious volume sales for Ford.
The 2013 Subaru Forester was launched in Guangzhou with two faces. The regular Forester looks much like the last generation model, albeit with a considerably improved interior – it’s now on a par with other Japanese SUV offerings, such as the RAV4 and C-RV.
The range topping 2.0-litre turbo has the more aggressive face and the engine that most buyers will want. Subaru’s plans to build cars in China were scuppered earlier this year when the Chinese government denied plans for Subaru’s joint venture with Chery. Still, Subaru seems to be doing okay with its range of imported cars, although the strong yen makes Subaru’s products relatively pricey in China and there is talk of Subaru importing its products from America, which should cut prices.
The Audi, BMW and Mercedes stands were lost on the second day when the show opened its doors to the public. All three were lost under a throng of showgoers eager to see the new stretched 3-Series, the A6L, Mercedes B200 and the new China-built Audi Q3.
Of the three, Audi lead the Chinese market thanks to its launch in the mid 90s. BMW came later but has wasted no time catching up in the past 18 months by launching locally made models such as the X1 and lengthened 3-Series. Mercedes is less successful; the E-class has never sold as well as the Audi A6 or the 5-series and the C-class out gunned by the 3-Series and the A4L. Mercedes needs a longer C-Class to compete.
Guangzhou was the third time Seat has participated in a Chinese show, but buyers don’t seem to be warming to the brand, despite the perception of it as more of a premium product than VW because the cars are all imported.
The VW range, like the Audi range, was suffering under a tsunami of visitors. The new Bora, Lavida and Santana and Jetta are essentially the same car aimed at different customers. The Santana and Jetta have been developed for the lower end of the market, which includes about 800 million people in China.
GM, with Chinese partner Shanghai Auto, wheeled out an electric version of the Chevrolet Sail, branded Springo. Volt-like styling at the front end and LCD instrument displays set the car’s exterior apart from reguar Sails, and this could be the start of an electric car sub-brand for GM-Shanghai. Chevrolet also had a special edition Malibu covered in Manchester United stickers, taking advantage of China’s love for the club.
Chery had a 1000sqm stand this year, but the stand was a lonely one. Chery has a big range but is short of customers. It’s been exporting rapidly but the introduction of too many sub brands, such as Riich and Reely to cover too many segments hurt the company. These brands have been killed to focus on Chery but at the show, at least, the Germans were doing more trade.
BYD was once the golden boy of the Chinese car industry but its fortunes changed when sales dropped off in 2010. The company went back to the drawing board and redeveloped its range to improve quality and technology, and its new Su Rui gets a direct injection engine, a dual clutch gearbox and has achieved a five star Chinese NCAP safety rating – all for the equivalent of £10,000.