Months ago I wrote about China’s domestic OEMs fast evolving automotive design capabilities (see Chinese Cars: Just Copycats?).
This time I want to highlight another developing aspect of the Chinese market: foreign brands are now frequently designing cars exclusively for the China. This is an expensive practice, but one that is justified by the market size, particular tastes of (some) Chinese customers, and the business dynamics between these brands and their local joint-venture partners. As an example, the domestic Compact Car segment is so large, that by itself it would rank among the 5 largest car markets in the world. This means automakers have to cater to large and diverse customer groups; hence the opportunity for several models from individual brands to effectively compete in it.
One may start thinking of how some of the China-exclusive models might fare if exported or produced abroad, which is exactly the point I would like to open for debate today. Certainly it would be no hardship to export into Emerging Markets; China’s regulations, environmental and usage requirements are as strict ― or stricter ― than most, so changes would be few and small in scope (with the exception of right-hand drive conversions). For Developed Markets, some extra engineering might be required to comply with safety regulations and requirements, but since many of the China-unique models are based on global platforms, it should be quite feasible. I suspect the greatest challenge is that these models are Made-in-China, which is a pity as the design, development philosophy and practices, as well as the quality and sophistication of tools and equipment are far more important than the country of manufacture. Chinese plants, for example, are among the newest in the world, and well-equipped given the massive recent investment. It’s a pity potential international customers are still locked in the old paradigm, but perceptions do matter. I have no qualms about buying a Chinese-made BMW, Honda, etc. I would even seriously consider some of the latest domestic brand products from Geely, BYD, Haval, Roewe and others.
Moving on, here are some interesting foreign brand ― in alphabetical order, not importance ― models made exclusively (at least so far) in China and for China. Let us know, by commenting, if you believe any of them would have appeal outside of China. [Read more…]