You probably haven’t heard of the Chinese car brands Emgrand, Gleagle and Englon, so I’m guessing the news that this trio is for the chopper isn’t going to distress you much. Not like a potential disappearance of Morgan, Porsche or Bentley, anyway.
Emgrand, Gleagle and Englon are all owned by Geely, the go-ahead Chinese group that bought Volvo from Ford for $1.2billion four years ago, but the company’s founder and boss, Li Shufu, has decided (with the help of customers voting with their feet) that having too many brands is counterproductive. Especially when the names sound funny.
Li Shufu, 50, is a highly commercially minded character. As a young man he started making and selling refrigerators, having recognised, early on, fast-growing demand from Chinese households. Seventeen years ago he moved to cars and today he employs more than 12,000 people and makes half a million cars a year, not including Volvo.
Seems Gleagle, in particular, failed to excite the punters: according to one report, respondents to research reckoned it sounded “goofy”. Only Geely and Volvo will survive as nameplates on the group’s future cars - a decision strikes me as further evidence that Geely is bound for the big time, beyond China as well as on the domestic market
Think about it: whenever anyone sets out to build a car on their own account, their earliest preoccupation, along with all those profile sketches on the back of exercise books, is the name.
Whether anyone will want to pay money for this creation - or whether it can actually be manufactured - are consideration that always come further down the list of priorities, which is barmy when you think about it. Geely, already a huge car maker, has realised what matters is substance and is proceeding at a great rate to make itself bigger and more relevant, especially to allegedly sophisticated customers like you and me.
Geely has moved a long way since it was infamous at Chinese shows, five or six years ago, for motor show pastiches of a whole collection of Western automotive icons, including the Rolls Phantom. We all laughed rather uncomfortably at these, and told one another they would never work. Ironically, they have led to respectability.
Nowadays the company’s muscle is allowing the creation of better and more ambitious Volvos - as we saw in Geneva a week ago - and you get the strong feeling that the Swedes’ car-making expertise is rapidly spreading through the Geely brand.
Back in London I now have the distinct feeling the first Chinese car I’m likely to be truly interested in owning will be a Geely. No hard evidence yet, but the feeling is surprisingly strong.