Chinese cars set to hit the UK
Despite the UK new car market reaching saturation and, even though they have a ravenous domestic market to satisfy, Chinese manufacturers are determined to export cars to our shores.
From the few examples that I have glimpsed so far, the planned models have very few qualities to ‘delight and surprise,’ in the short term, other than their appealing low price tags. Yet, it is all too easy to scoff at the Chinese. The British laughed at Japanese cars forty years ago and the Koreans less than two decades after that but the jokes have faded. Toyota is the world’s largest car manufacturer, with Hyundai/Kia sitting in fourth place in the pecking order, an improvement of six places in just the past decade.
So, here is a brief description of several Chinese companies that expect to generate some sales in the UK from next year:
Born from a venture between the Dongfeng Motor Corporation (one of China’s three largest car producers) and Yuan Vehicle Co Ltd, the resulting collaboration has created a range of micro vans and trucks, which are imported already into this country through DFSK UK, a trading name of Vestatec Automotive Distribution (VAD) Ltd. Interestingly, the Swindon-based VAD is led by Chairman, Jim Tyrrell, who used to be the Managing Director of the UK importer of Mitsubishi cars.
Offering a wider range of van than the old Bedford Rascal / Suzuki Supercarry ever did, the unsophisticated but undeniably able little DFSK range is priced from £7,999.
2. Great Wall
Great Wall is one of the few Chinese car companies in private ownership and an official statement about UK imports was made to the press in 2010. Since then, very little has materialised but the distributor happens to be International Motors, which not only imports the Japanese Subaru and Isuzu brands into the UK but also has an office in Beijing.
So far, two models have been earmarked. The first is a large bargain-basement pick-up truck, called the Steed. The second is a city car that is dubbed provisionally, the Voleex C10. Looking suspiciously similar to the previous-generation Toyota Yaris, its success is hinged on its equipment levels and how cheap it will be.
Since making its first car in 2001, (although the company started manufacturing refrigerators from 1986) Geely became China’s first independent car manufacturer. Its growth rate has been remarkable and, today, the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group owns one of Europe’s most respected car brands, Volvo.
Geely has announced that it is to enter one of the fiercest and most traditional sectors of the UK market, with a C/D segment saloon and hatchback, called the Emgrand EC7, which will be powered by either 1.5-litre or 1.8-litre petrol engines. The aim is to pitch the cars at an equivalent value of a typical European supermini, with a target on-the-road price of around £10,000.
Interestingly, the importer is Coventry-based Manganese Bronze holdings plc (MBH), which had production of its distinctive London Taxi cab moved from Coventry to China last year. Yet, the headquarters of Geely Auto UK will be located also in the home of the British Motor Industry. Currently, dealers and distributors for the new Emgrand EM7, and future models, are being sought, with ex-Rover dealers reported as being targeted.
4. SAIC Motor
I finish on the SAIC (known previously as the Shanghai Automotive Company Ltd). Being China’s largest volume car maker, surely one would have expected the company to have a presence in the UK? Well it does-ish. The Chinese company owns MG cars, which operates at the former Austin/BL/Rover headquarters in Longbridge, Birmingham.
The MG6 GT hatchback was launched in 2011, MG’s first all new car in sixteen years, which was joined by a saloon variant, the MG6 Magnette. Despite having a degree of development completed in the UK and the production cars, for the British market, being assembled from complete knock-down kits (CKD) at Longbridge, the MG6 is really made in China. Sadly, it seems that the British public are not convinced by the Chinese MGs, with only fifteen of them selling nationwide throughout October 2011, according to the SMMT, with a disastrous seven registrations being reported for November.
However, the company cannot be too worried. Most MG sales are achieved in China anyway and the SAIC is investing heavily in creating new models for its burgeoning domestic market. A sporting small hatchback, the MG3, is planned for UK launch by the end of 2012, even though it has been reported that this model is on Chinese sale already. The MG5 is mooted to arrive at around the same time, to ‘compete’ with the Ford Focus. Looking further ahead, we should expect an SUV-crossover style vehicle within two years’ alongside a large MG7 car, which is likely to inherit the chassis that is used on the current-generation Vauxhall Insignia. Finally, the replacement for the elderly MG TF roadster is expected in 2016. Unfortunately, other than the MG6, none of the new models will be assembled in the UK but will British buyers be convinced enough to support the Chinese car that wears a British badge, or would they prefer to buy an alternative Chinese car that admits to its truer heritage? Only time will tell.