Bystanders in Beijing: The Chinese Debuts You Didn't Hear About
Enough about the established automakers. We're more interested in China's latest homebrews.
Last year, China gobbled up 18.5 million new cars and trucks, making it the world's No. 1 car market by a huge margin. Predictions of 28 million cars by 2015 no longer sound like moon shots. Years of ridiculous double-digit growth have led the Americans and Europeans to forge new factories and joint ventures at every turn, and even though the pace may be slowing to a more normal speed, China is in every automaker's future.
Chinese automakers, however, are not in anyone's future outside China, Russia and Latin American countries such as Brazil. In America, we're not completely at fault for ignoring the domestic Chinese brands, either, because nearly all the vehicles they've shown us in the past 10 years have been deathtraps, monstrosities, jokes or flagrant copyright infringements.
We've watched as Malcolm Bricklin failed to import Chery and Warren Buffett poured hundreds of millions into the electric "Build Your Dreams" car from BYD. We all laughed at the 1980s Hyundai Excel exactly as we're laughing now at the copycat garbage from Lifan and Huanghai. Even with the Geely buyout of Volvo in 2010, the idea of an enticing Chinese car is just that: pure imagination.
So when will the best Chinese automakers emerge from the tar pits onto a global stage? Based on the latest Chinese debuts from the Beijing Auto Show, the date is still to be determined. But ignoring progress, no matter how incremental or inconsequential, is pretty foolish (ask Bob Lutz how that feels). Safety, styling and overall quality are getting better, and one day in the not-too-distant future, we'll probably be buying and driving their successors. Here are a few worth panning over.
(Note: Because no one covers the Beijing Auto Show properly and because Chinese automakers have outdated or gibberish English websites, we relied on the experts from China Car Times, edited by Ash Sutcliffe, an ex-pat who speaks Chinese and works in the local public-relations field. He also graciously provided most of the photos because he was there.)
Think Saab is dead? Well, OK, Saab is dead, but its old 9-3 and 9-5 platforms that General Motors sold to Beijing Auto in 2009 are very much alive. This Saab-based midsize car, the C70G, is attractive. The body creases, BMW-like LED taillights and chrome accents are generic, but no more generic than the new Volkswagen Passat.
BYD Qin / F3 Plus
BYD is famous for ripping off the previous-generation Toyota Corolla all the way down to the air-conditioning knobs. This new version still has strong whiffs of the current-generation car, at least from the side, but in EV trim, it's a Corolla dressed to kill. The electric Qin features a bi-directional charger that can direct power outside the car (the dream for so-called "smart charging") but the real star is the pop-up dashboard robot that looks like Eve from the movie "Wall-E" (look right above the nav screen, above). If that weren't enough, the plainer F3 Plus model supposedly can be driven, and likely crashed, by remote control.
Hong Qi H7
Hong Qi, or "Red Flag," is known for selling Audi- and Toyota-based luxury sedans for Chinese government officials. The automaker still maintains joint ventures with both companies today, despite the rear taillights looking suspiciously off the current E-Class. Inside, it looks quite roomy and even offers night vision.
Hey, the outgoing Chevrolet Aveo didn't look as good as this Riich G2. I have no idea if it's any good inside, but the 1.6-liter 125-horsepower engine and continuously variable transmission seem like decent pairings.
Wow. This Mazda-Infiniti design mash-up looks pretty amazing, and even nicer than the Hyundai Equus -- a big copycat in its own right. Like the C70G, the C60F is also based on a Saab platform and could come on the market in 2013. Any Saab dealers want to take a chance?
US auto manufacturers will not be able to hang in there against the Chinese, partly because of UAW greed driving up the cost of manufacturing and partly because companies like GM continue to put out low quality products that China will soon surpass.
The Chinese will be able to put money into engineering that Detroit cannot afford to. The US jobs that will be lost should be re created in the Chinese owned factories that are certainly coming to the US before too long. Most of our appliances and pretty much everything that has electronics in it is coming from China now, their economy is much stronger so it stands to reason that they will take the auto industry from us, especially since our auto manufacturers have proven that they can't weather a few bad years.
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