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 the September 2016 China car sales ranking, we welcome 9 new models, of which 3 SUVs, one of which from an all-new brand, the third domestic new brand this year (offsetting the demise of 2), 1 EV version of an existing SUV, 1 hatchback and 4 sedans. And for a change, the sedans are in my opinion the most significant launches of the bunch.
Shanghai-GM has resurrected an old name with the launch of the Chinese Chevrolet Cavalier. This car has nothing to do with the one that was sold in North America before being replaced by the Cobalt in 2005. Instead, the new Cavalier is basically a reskinned previous generation Chevrolet Cruze, a car that’s also still on sale in China next to the new generation.
That means the Cavalier is powered by the same powertrain as the Cruze Classic: a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 109hp, mated to a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. Its dimensions are 4.544/1.779/1.467 mm with a wheelbase of 2.600 mm.
The Cavalier is squarely aimed at budget buyers and is looking to steal sales from domestic sedans like the Geely Emgrand GL mentioned below. Ironically, the Emgrand GL uses a more modern platform, engines and gearboxes than the Chevy. The Cavalier is priced right between Chevrolet’s smaller Sail sedan and the more modern Cruze, and even starts lower than the Cruze Classic at 79.900 yuan (€10.800,- / US$ 11,900). With 9.741 sales in its first month, the Cavalier can absolutely be called a successful launch, however there’s a catch: Chevrolet Cruze sales (which unfortunately are not split into the two versions) are down by 8.929 units compared to September 2015 and down by 6.151 compared to August. That indicates the Cavalier cannibalizes sales of the Cruze, most likely of the Cruze Classic. That’s also reflected in Chevrolet brand sales, which are still down 10% to just over 51.000 units despite the additional 9.741 units of the Cavalier. We’ll keep an eye on the development of sales of these two models to see if my suspicion is right. But that’s not all: may be coincidental, but September also marks the end of the road for the ancient Buick Excelle which was priced similarly but doesn’t really fit with Buick’s more premium market positioning, so it makes sense to suspect GM intended for the Cavalier to lure some of the Excelle’s potential customers as well. Considering the Buick sold almost 13.000 units in September 2015, those are large shoes to fill for a model that’s already no more than average upon its launch.
For the third time this year, we welcome an all-new brand to the sales ranking in China, after Qiteng in January and Borgward in July. Despite Borgward’s long-awaited and heavily publicised launch, SWM Motor appears to be the most succesful launch of the 3, with 6.000 sales in its first month. Now bear in mind two things: first, sales reports might not always be 100% accurate in China, a fact supported by the suspiciously well-rounded figure of exactly 6.000 sales. Secondly, these sales figures are wholesale deliveries to dealers, which means they don’t yet reflect actual consumer demand in the first two to three months, as we’ll have to wait and see if dealers actually re-order after they’ve sold their initial stock or become more cautious as they’re not selling them off as quickly as hoped. So we’ll keep an eye on SWM in the coming months. In comparison: Borgward started with just over 4.000 sales in July and has sold just over 5.000 units in each of the two following months, which indicates the demand is actually there for its BX7 SUV.
Back to SWM: the brand has originally been an Italian producer of small motorcycles, which ended production in 2014. In 2014, the brand was bought and resurrected by Shineray Motorcycle Company (Xinyuan Holding), one of the largest motorcycle makers in China. Shineray also has a Joint Venture with Brilliance Automotive to produce passenger cars and small commercial vehicles for Brilliance-Jinbei. Now they’ve started to make passenger cars under the SWM brand. Their first vehicle is a 7-passenger SUV named SWM X7, powered by a either a base 1.8-liter naturally aspirated engine with 137hp or a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine with 150hp, both mated to a five-speed manual or a CVT. It will be front-wheel drive only. Its dimensions are: 4.710/1.855/1.750 mm with a wheelbase of 2.750 mm. It features a huge 12-inch touchscreen in the center console, not bad for a car with a price tag starting at 89.900 yuan (€12.200,- / US$ 13,400).
Brilliance has another Joint Venture with BMW to produce the 3-Series L, 5-Series L, X1 and 2-Series AT for the Chinese market. Perhaps that’s why SWM is not afraid to draw inspiration from the BMW X5 for their first SUV: the shape of the headlights, the Hofmeister-kink and the crease in the sides. And then there’s the name of course: X7.
Shanghai-GM-Wuling has launched a small hatchback based on the Chevrolet Sail as an entry-level car for its Baojun brand: the Baojun 310. It has a modern design with the large grille and headlights, sharp creases in the sides and a wrap-around rear window. Power comes from the same engine as the Chevrolet Cavalier and Sail, both mentioned above: a 1.5-liter and a 5-speed manual transmission. Dimensions of the 310 are: 4.032/1.680/1.470 mm with a 2.550mm wheelbase. Prices start at an incredibly low 36.800 yuan (€4.990,- / US$ 5,470). That doesn’t keep Baojun from putting in a touchscreen on top of the center console, although not as big as has become the trend among Chinese automakers, even in some of their cheapest cars.
Chery Tiggo 7
After launching the Arrizo 5 sedan last March (now the brand’s best selling model) and Cowin X3 SUV and V3 MPV just two months ago under its Arrizo and Cowin sub-brands, Chery launches yet another crossover in September. To attract a younger customer, Chery introduces a new design language for its main brand on its new flagship crossover: the Tiggo 7. It has a longer wheelbase than the Tiggo 3 and 5, but a lower overall height to give it a more sporty look. Sharp lines and creases dictate Chery’s new design language, so expect these features to return on its other upcoming models.
The front wheels are powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine with 112hp and 205NM of torque, mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed Dual Clutch Transmission. Also available is an oldfashioned 2-liter naturally aspirated engine with 90hp/180Nm, mated to a CVT. Chery dares to be colorful in the interior, and its youthful aspirations are underscored by the large touchscreen and infotainment system equipped with Chery Clouddrive, a cloud-based storage server for music, photos, and movies. Dimensions are 4.505/1.837/1.670 mm with a wheelbase of 2.670 mm. Prices start at 97.900 yuan (€13.250,- / US$ 14,500).
The Tiggo 7 sells 5.223 units in its firts month, making it the #3 best selling model for the brand, behind the Tiggo 3 and already outselling the Tiggo 5, without seemingly cannibalizing either one of them. Considering its modern design and sharp prices, I expect that figure to double in coming months, as the Tiggo 7 should easily break the 10.000 monthly sales volume.
Geely Emgrand GL
Geely has launched no less than six new or redesigned models in the past eight months, with the Emgrand GL as the latest installment in this wave of new models for the brand. The Emgrand GL is the sedan version of the Emgrand GS hatchback/crossover launched in May. Of course the GL is designed under supervision of Peter Horbury, just like all other recent Geely and Volvo models, and it shows: this may very well be the most modern looking Chinese compact sedan on the market.
Its prices start at exactly the same level as the Chevrolet Cavalier mentioned above: 79.900 yuan (€10.800,- / US$ 11,900). However, Geely uses more modern turbocharged engines as the Emgrand GL shares its 1.8-liter naturally aspirated and 1.3-liter turbocharged engines and 6-speed manual or Double Clutch automatic transmissions with the Emgrand GS, so it’ll be interesting to see how the sales figures of the two compare in the long-term. The dimensions are 4.725/1.802/1.478 mm and a wheelbase of 2.700 mm.
With 2.874 sales, the Emgrand GL starts modestly and at almost the same level as the Emgrand GS did four months ago. The latter has seen its sales steadily improve on that first month and is now at 8.500 sales, a figure the sedan should be able to easily more than double. In comparison: the Emgrand EC7, which will remain on sale alongside the GL and is priced similarly, sold 20.000 units in September.
The JAC iEV6S is a new EV based on the JAC Refine S2 crossover. It’s powered by a 115hp/270NM electric motor, giving the car a top speed of 130 km/h and an acceleration time of 11 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h. Charging of the 33 kWh battery takes 11 hours on 220V, a DC fast charger can charge the battery 80% in 1,5 hours. The range is 250 kilometers, theoretically increasing to 300 kilometer at a constant speed of 60 km/h. Dimensions are 4.135/1.750/1.560 mm with a wheelbase of 2.490 mm.
The interior is similar to that of the Refine S2, but with a few updates: the instrument cluster has become digital, the BMW-style drive selector on the trendy blue ball, and the black-white-blue seat upholstery. Prices start at 120.000 yuan (€16.250,- / US$ 17,800), including EV subsidies.
Expect JAC to launch a number of EVs and hybrids in the coming months as it tries to position itself in this increasingly busy market, which will become even busier when foreign brands start their green car offensive under pressure from the Beijing government.
Mitsubishi has finally started local production of its best selling crossover worldwide in an attempt to stop the brand from losing market share in China. In a market growing with double digits, Mitsubishi had been losing volume for 15 consecutive months until last July, of which 13 straight months of double digit losses and in the first 9 months of 2016 sales are down by one third. The brand has become increasingly dependent on the aging ASX crossover as sales of its sedans have all but come to a stop. Production of the Outlander takes place at the GAC Mitsubishi Motors factory in Changsha, Hunan province. A previous version of the Outlander was produced in China from 2004 to 2007.
Despite China’s policy favoring EVs and PHEVs, the Outlander will only be available with four-cylinder petrol engines and CVT transmissions: a 122hp/200NM 2-liter powering the front wheels and a 140hp/235NM 2.4-liter with 4WD. The latter will also be available with optional 7-seater capacity. The dimensions are naturally the same as elsewhere in the world: 4.705/1.810/1.680 mm and a wheelbase of 2.670 mm. Prices start at 159.800 yuan (€21.650,- / US$ 23,750) for the 2-liter FWD 5-seater and 196.800 (€26.650,- / US$ 29,250) for the 2.4-liter AWD 7-seater.
With 1.479 sales in its first month, the Outlander sells at half the volume of the ASX, which also means it takes almost a third of Mitsubishi brand sales in China. It’s also single-handedly responsible for the brand’s sales increase in September: without the Outlander, Mitsubishi sales would have dropped once-again last month. With prices not that far above those of a similarly equipped ASX and offering 7-seat capacity, I expect the Outlander to become Mitsubishi’s best selling model in the coming months, but I’d still call it a failure if it’s unable to hit 5.000 monthly sales.
Jaguar has started local production of its long wheelbase XF in the same Chery-Jaguar Land Rover factory where the Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport are made. The brand proudly mentions this factory features China’s first purpose-built aluminium body shop.
The XFL is a China-only sedan with a 3.100 mm wheelbase, which means it’s stretched 140 mm compared to the regular XF, with all that extra room available to the rear passengers. Other dimensions are 5.093/1.880/1.491 mm. It’s available with three powertrain options: a 2-liter turbocharged engine with either 200hp/320NM or 240hp/340NM or a 340hp/450NM 3-liter V6 supercharged engine. All are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and are rear wheel drive. All wheel drive may become available in the future. Prices start at 388.000 yuan (€52.500,- / US$ 57,700) for the 2.0T and 618.000 yuan (€83.700,- / US$ 91,900) for the V6. This is comparable to the Audi A6L and very competitive to the BMW 5-Series L and Mercedes-Benz E-Class L. The smaller but imported Jaguar XE starts at the same price, due to the high import duties.
In its first month of sales, 1.272 units of the XFL were sold, a figure that could possibly double with such sharp pricing, although the German competitors have better legacy and a larger customer pool.
The long-awaited flagship sedan for the French brand has finally started deliveries in September. The Citroën C6 has nothing to do with the European C6 of a few years ago as this is a China-only large sedan, produced by Dongfeng Peugeot Citroën and it’s basically the same car as the Dongfeng Fengshen A9, yet positioned higher in the market. A DS9 premium sedan on the same platform is expected to be introduced next year.
The C6 will compete with the Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Crown and the also brand-new Volkswagen Phideon in China, a segment that has already died in Europe and is shrinking in the US, but still very much alive in China. These cars are positioned just below luxury sedans like the BMW 3-SeriesL, Audi A4L and Mercedes-Benz C-Class L, but offer more interior room and more standard equipment.
Dimensions of the C6 are 4.980/1.840/1.470 mm with a wheelbase of 2.900 mm and powertrain options are two turbocharged four-cylinder engines, both mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission: a 1.6-liter with 166hp/245Nm and a 1.8 liter with 204hp/280Nm, which may be a bit too small for Chinese tastes, especially considering the competition offers engines above 2-liters and even V6’s. Prices range from around 200.000 to 300.000 yuan. (€27.000,- / US$ 29,700 to €40.600,- / US$ 44,600). In comparison, the Citroën C5 starts at 180.000 yuan and ends at 240.000 yuan in China, and the locally made Mercedes-Benz C-Class L starts at 314.000 yuan and ends at 590.000 yuan, so the C6 fits nicely in between. The Dongfeng Fengshen A9 is priced similar to the Citroën C5.
With 544 sales in its first month, the C6 immediately outsells both the venerable C5 (336 units) and Peugeot 508 (267 units). The Dongfeng A9 sold 158 copies in September after peaking at 505 sales in July. I find it difficult to predict long-term volume prospects for this model, looking at the well-established competition (Buick LaCrosse: 8.000 sales, Toyota Crown: 4.000 sales, Ford Taurus: 3.750 sales) the C6 is still far off target. Remember Citroën sold an average of almost 3.000 units of the C5 as recently as 2014, but sales have fallen off a cliff as the model has gone past its expiry date. The French brand has risked dropping from buyers’ shopping lists and I find it hard to imagine the C6 will be able to recover that lost ground. Also compare the new Volkswagen Phideon with 685 units in September, although that’s a bit more expensive with starting prices of 300.000 yuan.
The PSA brands really need to start launching some affordable crossovers to avoid losing out of the world’s biggest car market altogether.