The Chinese car market is one of the most diverse in the world, with over 400 locally produced passenger car models from more than 70 domestic and foreign brands. If we include imported vehicles, minivans, pickups and commercial vehicles, there are more than 1.000 different models available. In November 2016 we welcome 7 new models, of which 4 crossover/SUVs, 2 MPVs and one station wagon.
The Buick GL8 is not an entirely new nameplate, it has been around for two previous generations since 2000, and in fact this third generation isn’t all that new considering it sits on the same platform of the previous generation. Then why bother featuring it here at all? The GL8 marks a significant shift in Buick’s positioning, as this is the first model of the brand worldwide to get the new upscale Avenir moniker. Avenir is not a sub-brand, but more like a top-of-the-line trim, a bit like Ford’s Vignale in Europe and GMC’s Denali in the US. The GL8 is a big MPV, which at first was mostly used by luxury taxi and transport companies, but is now also being embraced by families looking for a lot of passenger space.
It measures over 5,2 meters in length and has a wheelbase of over 3 meters, which makes it longer than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class L or a Cadillac Escalade. Exact dimensions: 5.203/1.878/1.811mm and a wheelbase of 3.088mm, and a weight of close to two tons (up to 1.880-1.960kg). The sumptuous V6 in the previous generation GL8 has been replaced by a downsized 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine with 260hp and 350Nm, mated to a six-speed automatic. Prices for the base ES start at 289.900 yuan (€ 39.900,- / US$ 41,800) and run up to 399.900 yuan, while the Avenir is priced at 449.900 yuan (€ 61.900,- / US$ 64,900), which is just under the starting price of the Mercedes-Benz V-Class in China, which was introduced last May. The GL8 Avenir offers more exterior chrome and a honeycomb grille, larger wheels and a more luxurious interior with second-row massage seats.
As usual in China, the previous generation GL8 will remain on sale alongside the new one to offer an entry-level budget alternative, mostly for fleet customers. In its first month of sales, combined sales of the two generations GL8 peaked at over 9.000 units, its second-best monthly volume after January 2014, and up 47% on the monthly average of the past 12 months, a promising start indeed for the new generation.
A few months after launching the GLC in Europe and the US, Mercedes-Benz has also started local Chinese production of the replacement to the GLK. In China, the GLC is available with a 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine mated to a nine-speed automatic and standard 4Matic four-wheel drive. The engine comes in three versions: The GLC200 with 184hp/300Nm, the GLC 260 with 211hp/350Nm and the GLC300 with 245hp/370Nm. Prices start at 396.000 yuan (€ 54.500,- / US$ 57,200) and run up to 579.000 yuan (€ 79.700,- / US$ 83,600), comparable to the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Cadillac XT5 and Infiniti QX50, but cheaper than the BMW X3 which is imported to China.
Sales-wise, the GLC immediately picks up where the GLK ended, as its 6.705 sales in November are on par with the monthly average of the GLK for the past 12 months.
I don’t know what the product planning department at Volkswagen is doing, but they’re obviously not paying attention to the crossover wave that has swept China in recent years. While the local manufacturers and other foreign brands, most notably Honda, are successfully launching one hot new crossover after the other, VW has decided a rugged-up station wagon should suffice. The C-Trek is based on the Volkswagen Bora sedan, which is in the basics a previous generation Jetta. It is a similar concept to the Cross Lavida, a “cross” version of the Gran Lavida, the station wagon/hatchback version of the Lavida sedan. Volkswagen also makes a similar version of the Santana, also both in “Gran” and “Cross” versions, but unfortunately those sales are not specified from the Santana sedan.
While this is a relatively cheap way to extract a little more volume from an existing platform, it’s also all but guaranteed to not even come close to the potential sales figures of a “real” crossover or SUV. Having said that, the C-Trek’s 5.600 sales in its first month are more than I would have expected for such a model, although there’s a catch: it appears to be cannibalizing on the Cross Lavida/Gran Lavida, as combined sales of these models are down from an average of 5.900 monthly sales to just 1.885, a 4.000 unit drop. So indeed there appears to be a limit to the number of Chinese consumers interested in a Volkswagen hatchback/station wagon, be it a wannabe crossover or not.
Mechanics of the C-Trek are similar to the Bora sedan: An old 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 110hp and 155Nm or torque, mated to a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission and a more modern 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 130hp and 225Nm, mated to a 5-speed manual or a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox. Four-wheel drive is (of course) not available. Dimensions: 4.559/1.793/1.487mm with a wheelbase of 2.614mm. Prices run from 125.900 yuan (€ 17.300,- / US$ 18,200) to 162.900 yuan, an 8-10% premium over the sedan.
Ah the Zotye SR9, probably the Chinese launch that has caused the most controversy and the most discussions pre-launch this year. Not sure why, some people seem to think it resembles an already existing model from a European manufacturer, but I can’t put my finger on which one that could be…. Okay, sarcasm aside, this is of course a blunt copy of the Porsche Macan, including the interior. The SR9 is as similar to the Macan as the Landwind X7 is to the Range Rover Evoque. The dimensions of the SR9 are 4.744/1.929/1.647mm, with a wheelbase of 2.850mm, all within a centimeter of the Macan’s dimensions. This isn’t the first time Zotye has copied a VW Group product, but it is the most obvious. But it’s a successful strategy for them, the brand is up 65% so far this year, and the SR9 will only add to that success, as Chinese car buyers don’t care about the copyright infringements, if they can drive a car that looks like a >588.000 yuan Porsche for a fifth of that price.
You read that right, the Porsche Macan starts at 558.000 yuan (€ 80.900,- / US$ 84,900) and tops out at almost double that: 1.124.100 yuan for the Turbo with performance package. The Zotye SR9 is priced from 109.800 yuan (€ 15.100,- / US$ 15,900) and runs up to 162.800 yuan. And for that kind of money, the SR9 offers quite a modern drive train: it’s powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine with 190hp and 250Nm, mated to a five-speed manual or a six-speed dual clutch transmission. In fact, it’s the same engine as the Landwind X7, as it’s sourced from the same Shenyang-Mitsubishi engine Joint Venture that supplies almost all smaller Chinese automakers.
In its first month of sales, Zotye sold almost 3.300 copies of the SR9, a figure that is likely to more than double in coming months.
Renault has started local Chinese production of the second generation Koleos SUV in its plant in Wuhan, where it already produces the smaller Kadjar crossover since last March. The first generation Koleos was also sold in China, but is was imported from South-Korea, where it was built by Renault-Samsung Motors, and sold in limited numbers because of the high import duties. Renault has (kind of late) decided to take the booming Chinese car market seriously, and has not only started local production to be able to lower its prices, but to do so with 2 models that should appeal to the Chinese car buyer: crossovers. The Koleos is off to a similar, and even slightly better start than the Kadjar. The latter started in May with 2.753 sales and has sold an average of 2.345 monthly units since its launch, peaking above 4.000 units in October, while the Koleos started with 2.878 sales in November, immediately outselling its smaller and cheaper sibling. This makes sense, as the larger Nissan X-Trail also outsells the Qashqai.
The Koleos shares the platform, engines and gearbox with the Nissan X-Trail, which is also made in China by a Joint Venture with Dongfeng. That means the option of a 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 150hp/200Nm and front-wheel drive or a 2,5 liter four-cylinder with 186hp/233Nm and optional four-wheel drive, both mated to a CVT gearbox. Dimensions are 4.672/1.843/1.678mm with a wheelbase of 2.705, again similar to the X-Trail. Prices start at 179.800 yuan (€ 24.700,- / US$ 25,900) and top out at 269.800 yuan. This puts it on par with that X-Trail, slightly above the smaller Peugeot 4008, but below the VW Tiguan and the (more powerful) Buick Envision. As the French brand is expanding its dealership coverage and improving its brand awareness, the Koleos should be able to double up on its first month sales, but even that would not meet Renault’s high expectations. The factory has a capacity of 150.000 annual units of Kadjar and Koleos combined, but was planned to expand to 300.000 if sales take off.
If the Karry K60 looks familiar, you’re absolutely right: it is a rebadged Chery Cowin V3, an MPV launched last July. And while Cowin is aimed at the younger car buyers in second and third tier cities, looking for affordable and somewhat trendy cars as their first automobile purchase, Karry is Chery’s brand for commercial vans, which rather confusingly has also entered the passenger car market recently. First with the K50 MPV and now with the K60 MPV, although they’re trying to market it as an SUV. The K60 is available in 5, 6 or 7 seat configurations. Power comes from the same 1,5-liter four-cylinder engine, pumping out 109hp and 140Nm, mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive only. Since it is only a rebadge job, the dimensions are exactly the same as those of the Cowin V3: 4.606/1.790/1.750mm, with a 2.765mm wheelbase. Prices start at 58.800 yuan (€ 8.100,- / US$8,500) and end at 77.800 yuan, which is another 6% less than the already incredibly cheap Cowin V3. No wonder the K60 sells more units in its first month (2.624 sales) than the V3 has done in any of its five months on sale (averaging 1.672 sales with a peak of 2.045 in October).
GAC Trumpchi GS8
The GAC Trumpchi GS8 is a large SUV which will be the flagship of the GAC Trumpchi brand, and the largest and most expensive vehicle Guangzhou Auto has made to date. It sits on the same platform as the GA8 sedan and the upcoming GM8 MPV, which will compete with the Buick GL8 you’ve seen above. Arguably, the GS8 is one of the best looking Chinese SUVs so far, and it shares a slight resemblance to the Infiniti QX80 (but not nearly as much to speak of copying like Zotye has done with its SR9 from above). Especially the headlights are very original, with four separate parts positioned in a square, surrounded by an LED strip. The GS8 is also significantly smaller than that behemoth. Its 4.810/1.910/1.770mm dimensions and 2.800mm wheelbase means its similarly sized to the Range Rover Sport and BMW X5.
Power comes from a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 201hp and 300Nm, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive is optional. Prices start at 163.800 yuan (€ 22.500,- / US$23,600, cheaper than the smaller Koleos, and even cheaper than the GA8 sedan) and can run up to 159.800 yuan. As an indication of how much more popular SUVs are than sedans: the GA8 has sold an average of just over 400 monthly units since its launch last May, while the GS8 sells over 2.500 units in its first month of sales.