The Chinese car market is one of the most diverse in the world, with almost 500 locally produced passenger car models from more than 70 domestic and foreign brands, as you can see in our 2016 Chinese car sales analysis. If we include imported vehicles, minivans, pickups and commercial vehicles, there are more than 1.000 different models available. In the December 2016 China car sales ranking, we welcome 10 new models: 5 SUVs, 2 sedans, one MPV and an EV, including a new brand, the fifth domestic new brand this year (offsetting the demise of 3). As a bonus, I’ll also throw in an interesting 11th model which isn’t entirely new (it’s been on sale since July), but for which we didn’t have sales figures available yet.
Soueast Motors, a joint venture of Fujian Auto, CMC of Taiwan and Mitsubishi, has struggled to reach sustainable volume in its home market, as its line-up of sedans based on out-of-production Mitsubishi cars failed to keep up with rising demands of Chinese car buyers. That changed in 2015 when the brand launched its first crossover DX7 Bolang, which was designed with the help of Italy’s famous design house Pininfarina, and which immediately became the brand’s best selling model with more than three quarters of total brand sales. In December, that model was accompanied by a smaller crossover called DX3, which also was co-designed by Pininfarina. In its first month of sales, the DX3 immediately outsold its larger sibling and the two crossovers took a combined 92,5% of Soueast volume, a very promising start for the newcomer that’s intended to double the brand’s sales in this year after topping 100.000 sales for the first time ever in 2016.
The DX3 is available with the same two Mitsubishi-sourced engines that most small Chinese brands use for their small cars: a 1,5-liter with 120hp and 143Nm of torque mated to a 5-speed manual, and an optional 1,5-liter turbo with 150hp and 220Nm of torque, mated to a CVT. Size of the small Soueast crossover: 4.354/1.840/1.654mm with a wheelbase of 2.610mm. Prices start at 72.900 yuan (€ 9.900,- / US$10,600) and ends at 99.900 yuan (€ 13.600,- / US$14,500), which is similar to the Changan CS35 (14.000 monthly sales) and JAC Refine S3 (16.700 monthly sales), but above budget models like the the Beijing Senova X35 (12.400 monthly sales). Compared to these established rivals the DX3’s 8.535 sales in its first month are pretty impressive for such a small brand.
Beijing Automotive and its confusing array of subsidiaries and (sub-)brands has started yet another venture: BAIC BJEV, which promises to launch an entire range of electric vehicles in the next few years. BAIC owns 60% of the company, and one of the shareholders of the remaining part is LeEco, known from its LeSEe electric supercar and its investment in Faraday Future, the American would-be Tesla challenger. The first vehicle of this range is an Electric Citycar with a claimed range of 180 kilometers, appropriately named EC180. The EC180 is powered by a 41hp electric motor getting its juice from a 20.3 kWh battery pack. Charging from a conventional 220V plug will take six to seven hours. The EC180’s size is 3.672/1.630/1.495mm with a wheelbase of 2.360mm and a curb weight of 1.085kg.
The price of the EC180 is 151.800 yuan (€ 20.600,- / US$22,000), but generous EV subsidies take that down to below 60.000 yuan (€ 8.200,- / US$8,700). Considering its price, the interior of the EC180 is very basic, with lots of hard plastics and no infotainment screen in the center console. A few orange touches are meant to give it a bit of trendiness, but Chinese consumers have come to expect more by now. Still, 4.128 sales in its first month mean the EC180 immediately puts BAIC on the map in terms of electric car sales, as the brand aims to challenge BYD, which surprisingly doesn’t offer an EV in this segment yet. The EC180’s main competitor is the Chery eQ which peaked at 3.233 sales in November, so first strike for BAIC BJEV.
I just mentioned BAIC’s dizzying spaghetti of subsidiaries and the fine line between brands and subbrands, and here’s another one: its Beiqi-Yinxiang Joint Venture with Yinxiang Motorcycle Group, which already produces the Huansu (sub?)brand in Chongqing, has launched a second brand: Bisu Auto. Whereas Huansu is aimed at Chinese cheap car buyers in general, Bisu is marketed specifically to young cheap car buyers, similar to the Cowin subbrand of Chery. Bisu launched its first two models in December: a crossover mentioned below and its best seller so far: an MPV called M3. The M3 is built on the same platform as the Huansu H3 MPV and measures 4.760/1.810/1.751mm with the same 2.800mm wheelbase as the H3. The two models also share the same 1,5-liter engine with 113hp and 150Nm and 5-speed manual transmission. A 1,5-liter turbocharged engine with 140hp is expected to debut later in 2017.
The Bisu M3 seats 7 in a 2/2/3 configuration, all within its almost 4,8 meters of length. Prices range from 61.900 yuan (€ 8.400,- / US$9,000) to 83.900 yuan (€ 11.400,- / US$12,200), which means it starts where the Huansu H3 ends, but similar to the Chery Cowin V3, which has sold an average of 1.700 units a month since its launch in July. The Bisu M3 beats that figure in its first month with 2.597 sales, although it’s still far off its twin, which peaked at 12.333 in December.
Like Soueast above, Venucia has had trouwble growing far beyond the 100.000 annual sales threshold, peaking at just under 124.000 sales in 2015 before slightly losign volume in a growing market in 2016. And like Soueast, its savior has been a crossover: the T70 launched in 2015, based on the platform of the first generation Nissan Qashqai. That makes sense because Venucia is a brand of the Dongfeng-Nissan Joint Venture which also produces the Nissan models for the Chinese market and all of its models are based on previous generation Nissans. But that strategy no longer seems to work now that other local brands have upped their game and have launched much more modern cars, most notably affordable crossovers and SUVs. So Dongfeng-Nissan has vowed to raise its sales volume by launching a product offensive in coming years, based on more modern platforms. The first of these is the T90 SUV, based on the platform of the current Nissan Murano. It’s a rather large SUV, measuring 4.793/1.865/1.592mm with a wheelbase of 2.765mm.
The Venucia T90 has a love-it-or-hate-it design, with a coupe-like roofline inspired by the BMW X6 and Honda Crosstour, which should appeal to Chinese car buyers, but less so to export markets, for which it isn’t meant anyways. The interior is very modern, with a large 12.3 inch (1920×768) touch screen on top of the center console, but the engine is less modern: an old naturally aspirated Nissan 2-liter petrol with just 144hp and 198Nm, coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission or a CVT. Prices range from 109.800 yuan (€ 14.900,- / US$15,900) to 154.800 yuan (€ 21.000,- / US$22,500), similar to the Geely Boyue, which has much more traditional styling and averaged 12.000 monthly sales since its launch. These figures the T90 won’t reach, but 2.481 units in its first month make it Venucia’s #2 seller, and achieved it without cannibalizing the existing T70 which hit a peak of 9.764 sales this same month.
Dongfeng Fengshen AX5
Dongfeng is another Chinese manufacturer that likes to divide its model range into subbrands, one of which is Fengshen, whose English name is Aeolus. You may have noticed the Aeolus A9 appear on these pages last April, as this is the domestic sibling of the Citroën C6. This flagship sedan is a low-volume player, as the C6 sold more units in December alone than the A9 has done since its launch. Logically, Fengshen’s most popular models are its crossovers AX7 and AX3, and it has now filled the void between these two with the Fengshen AX5, even though the newcomer is shorter than the latter of the two existing models. The AX5 measures 4.501/1.806/1.650mm with a 2.630mm wheelbase, making it wider and higher than the AX3, which has a more station wagon-like appearance. The AX5 is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with 140hp and 196Nm of torque which also optional on the AX3, and it is mated to a 5-speed manual or an optional 6-speed automatic Dual Clutch Transmission.
The Dongfeng Fengshen AX5 has a fresh and modern design with sharp creases and an almost European appearance, once more underscoring the improvement in the styling department the domestic Chinese automakers have made in recent times. This continues in the interior, which has a clean look with nice touches like the chrome details on the dashboard and a big touchscreen on top of the center console, just what the doctor ordered. Prices run from 89.700 (€ 12.200,- / US$13,000) to 128.700 (€ 17.500,- / US$18,700), on par with the GAC Trumpchi GS4 and Roewe RX5, both of which handily top 20.000 monthly sales. Those figures will be unattainable for the AX5, but it should be able to at least triple its first-month volume of 2.246 sales.
Volkswagen Tiguan L
Of course the regular Volkswagen Tiguan is an established player in China as well as in VW’s other markets, but to fill the gap between this model and the upcoming Teramont SUV (also known as Atlas in North America), Volkswagen has developed a long wheelbase version of the Tiguan. This model will be sold in North America and Europe as the Tiguan Allspace, but in China it will simply be Tiguan L. With its dimensions of 4.712/1.839/1.673mm the L is 22,6cm longer than the regular version and its wheelbase is extended by 11cm to 2.791mm. In standard configuration the L can seat 5 with ample legroom for the rear passengers, an optional third row will come available soon, making it a 7-seater vehicle, although the third row will be suited for children only.
Official sales will start in January, but VW has already registered 1.650 units in December, probably demo models for press and dealers. At launch two engines are available, both four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines, and both mated to DSG double clutch automatic transmissions: a 1,8-liter with 180hp and a 2-liter with 220hp. Both are also available on the short wheelbase version, the 1,4-liter with 150hp is not (yet?) available on the L. Prices for the 5-seater range from 223.800 yuan (€ 30.400,- / US$32,500) to 359.800 yuan (€ 48.900,- / US$52,300), true to VW’s premium pricing and above other recent launches like the Renault Koleos (3.000 monthly sales in its first 2 months) and Peugeot 4008 (4.300 monthly sales in its first 2 months) and more in line with cars like the 7-seat Toyota Highlander (7.600 monthly sales). The outgoing Tiguan still sold an average of 20.000 units a month, and considering the Chinese appetite for rear legroom, the L should be able to add more than a few sales to that.
Another long wheelbase version of an existing model, although the Volvo S90 will only be available as the stretched version in China, just like many of its competitors. Volvo doesn’t call it the S90L as you would expect, just S90 Long wheelbase, but the badge on the back only reads S90 so that’s what we’ll settle for here too. Compared to the regular S90 as it is sold in North America and Europe, Volvo has stretched the wheelbase by 12cm to give rear passengers more legroom. Like the S60L, Volvo plans to start exports of the S90L to North America (and Europe) from its factory in Daqing but has not yet published when this will happen. The S90 replaces the S80L as the flagship sedan of the Swedish brand that’s owned by China’s Geely. It’s also the first of a product offensive that will include the new compact cars S40 and XC40, as well as a new generation XC60 and perhaps an S100. The latter is not confimed yet, but Geely’s boss Li Shufu wants Volvo to have a proper limousine to compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class etc.
For now, Chinese buyers will have to settle for the S90, and its ultra-luxury 3-seat top-of-the-line version S90 Excellence which will arrive later in 2017. 3 seats mean no front passenger seat to give more room to the rear passenger, which is usually the owner of this kind of chauffeur-driven car. The S90 has two powertrain options, both 2-liter turbocharged petrol engines mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission: a base 190hp/300Nm version and an optional 254hp/350Nm version. The S90 Excellence will only be available with the same drivetrain that powers the XC90 T8: a 400hp plug-in hybrid version of the same engine. Prices for the Volvo S90 range from 369.800 yuan (€ 50.300,- / US$53,800) to 551.800 yuan (€ 75.000,- / US$80,250), which is similar to the Jaguar XFL (1.400 monthly sales since its launch in September) and the Audi A6L (11.000 monthly sales) and very competitive to the BMW 5-Series L (12.000 monthly sales) and Mercedes-Benz E-Class L (8.500 monthly sales since the new generation in September). The S90’s first month of 968 sales actually lags the XFL’s launch volume of 1.272 units, but it should be able to handily outsell the Jag once deliveries pick up. It won’t come close to its German rivals in terms of sales, though.
JAC Refine A60
JAC is a mid-sized Chinese brand (350.000 annual passenger cars) which has a successful range of crossovers, most notably the Refine S3 which sells around 200.000 units a year, and exports to a great number of developing markets in the Asia, Africa and South-America. They’ve had the Refine A60 under development for about three years and it has already had its first facelift before reaching the market. Sales finally started in December with an impressive chrome grille, but an already outdated interior, showing the long development period. At over 5 meters long (5.005/1.890/1.503mm with a 2.915mm wheelbase) it’s a true flagship sedan for the brand. Power comes from a modern 1,5-liter turbocharged engine with 174hp and 250Nm of torque, mated to an equally modern 6-speed Dual Clutch automatic transmission, and a 2-liter turbo with 190hp and 280Nm of torque will follow later.
Prices for the Refine A60 range from 139.500 yuan (€ 18.900,- / US$20,300) to 179.500 yuan (€ 24.400,- / US$26,100), in line with competitors like the Geely GC9 (4.300 monthly sales) and GAC Trumpchi GA8 (360 monthly sales since its launch in May), but higher than the Zotye Z700 (1.100 monthly sales) and Lifan 820 (185 monthly sales). Then again, the Dongfeng Fengshen A9 (200 monthly sales) and Roewe 950 (150 monthly sales) are priced slightly higher. Of these, only the Geely has achieved decent volume and in that light, the A60’s first month volume of 376 sales is actually pretty good, but it’ll be difficult to reach four-digit sales in the long term.
The second model for the all-new Bisu brand is a small crossover called T3. Like the M3 MPV, the T3 is built on existing platforms from its sister brand Huansu. It shares its technical DNA with the Huansu S3, but not its 1,3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 132hp and 185Nm of torque, mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. Its Huansu siblings are powered by naturally aspirated 1,5-liter engines, just like the Bisu M3 we discussed above. And while the M3 is styled as a traditional (and conservative) MPV, the Bisu designers were in a much more frivolous mood when they drew the T3. An increasing number of brands are desperately trying to make sure each of their models bears the corporate styling so that it’s easily recognizable as coming from that brand, but Bisu clearly hasn’t gotten that memo, as the M3 and T3 almost couldn’t be further apart in terms of styling. And that goes for both exterior and interior. One explanation for this could be the (unconfirmed) rumors that several designers who had been working on the upcoming CS55 for competitor Changan (also based in Chongqing) may have taken some inspiration from that model when they made their move to the new Bisu brand.
The Bisu T3 is also a fair bit smaller than its MPV sibling, at 4.350/1.825/1.685mm with a 2.565mm wheelbase. With its more modern engine, it’s a bit more expensive than the M3, which also helps explain the difference in sales volume for their first month on the market. Prices for the T3 start at 74.900 yuan (€ 10.200,- / US$10,900) and run up to 86.900 yuan (€ 11.800,- / US$12,600). This is also higher than the Huansu S3 (8.200 monthly sales) and the Chery Cowin X3 (4.000 monthly sales since its launch in July), but similar to the FAW Xenia R7 (5.400 monthly sales since its launch in May) and the Chery Tiggo 3 (10.000 monthly sales). It’s first-month of 320 sales volume is not representative of its potential, which should be at or just below the Xenia R7’s volume.
After the tremendous success of the Cherokee (9.000 monthly sales) and Renegade (4.000 monthly sales), Jeep adds a third model to its locally produced line-up in China. And it’s potentially the best selling of the three: the all-new Compass, which replaces the imported Compass and Patriot. The Compass is developed on an enlarged version of FCA’s Small US Wide platform that also underpins the Jeep Renegade, the Fiat 500X, 500L and Toro pickup. It slots nicely inbetween the two existing Jeeps in its Chinese line-up, both in terms of size and price. Two versions are available: the 200T with a 165hp/250Nm 1,4-liter turbocharged engine mated to a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed Dual Clutch automatic gearbox, all sending power to the front wheels only. The more adventurous buyers can opt for the 200TS Trailhawk, which is powered by the older naturally aspirated 2,4 liter four-cylinder engine with 175hp and just 228Nm of torque, mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission and four wheel drive.
The dimensions of the Compass are 4.415/1.819/1.625mm with a wheelbase of 2.636mm. Prices for the 200T start at 159.800 yuan (€ 21.700,- / US$23,200) and go up to 199.800 yuan (€ 27.100,- / US$29,000), while the 4×4 200TS Trailhawk takes a significant premium at 241.800 yuan (€ 32.800,- / US$35,200). The Renegade starts at 134.800 yuan and the Cherokee at 229.800 yuan, so indeed nicely in between. The Compass will compete with cars like the Volkswagen Tiguan (20.000 monthly sales), Honda CR-V (15.000 monthly sales) and Toyota RAV4 (9.700 monthly sales) and should be able to sell at least as well as the latter, but perhaps even as well as the CR-V. Its first-month sales of 300 units are in no way representative of its potential.
Special mention: Acura CDX
The Acura CDX is not entirely new for December, it has already been on sales since July, but we didn’t have access to its sales figures until now, and it’s a significant enough addition to the Chinese car market to deserve a mention in this column. Significant perhaps not so much in terms of sales volume, as an average of 1.140 monthly sales an a peak in December of 1.811 sales is not earth shaking, but it is the first Acura to be produced locally, and it’s Acura’s first China-exclusive model as well. The design is also recognizably aimed at Chinese car buyers, and it would probably appeal less in the US market. The CDX is built on the platform of the very successful Honda Vezel and XR-V, which sell over 13.000 units a month each.
The Acura CDX is powered by a 1,5-liter turbocharged engine with 182hp and 240Nm or torque, mated to an 8-speed Dual Clutch transmission. It’s standard front-wheel drive with optional four-wheel drive. Dimensions are 4.496/1.840/1.615mm with a wheelbase of 2.660mm. Prices start at 229.800 yuan (€ 31.200,- / US$33,400) and run up to 312.800 yuan (€ 42.500,- / US$45,500) for the top-of-the-line AWD. This undercuts the starting prices of the Audi Q3 (7.400 monthly sales), BMW X1 (6.000 monthly sales for the new generation since June) and Mercedes-Benz GLA (5.600 monthly sales), but is significantly higher than the Jeep Compass as described above. With that in mind, its 1.800 sales in December are still below its potential, but keep in mind that in China as well as in the US, Acura is only a 2nd tier luxury brand behind the Germans, and won’t hit those kind of volumes easily.