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China’s automobile industry is a bit like the Wild West: It’s a full-fledged fight to the top of this new, wide-open, and immensely important market. A latecomer to the global car party, auto production in China didn’t really start picking up steam until the 80’s. Nowadays the market is composed of the remnants of gargantuan state-owned manufacturers – think… ‘we used to make tanks, now it’s all hatchbacks’ – that are either still state owned, or have gone public, and another slightly smaller portion of independent upstarts, under 20 years old. With lots of capital, engineering talent, and IP leftover from a litany of failed joint ventures with foreign players (by law, no foreign entity can own a controlling share of a Chinese auto producer), the industry has improved the quality of its offerings infinitely in a short amount of time. Currently, an impressive number of soon-to-be globally competitive players have emerged and global industry experts agree; marketing information firm J.D. Powers and Associates predicts parity with international brands could come as soon as 2015. So, after many tiresome hours of ‘would you like to translate this page’ style research, Blog Clique cuts through the noise to bring you the insider report on the Chinese auto industry in 2013.
Nice car dude
There are many examples of world-class Chinese auto design, and regardless of the intellectual property that has been…uh…let’s say ‘borrowed’, China’s manufacturers are just about ready to shake up the global auto industry for good. For example, check out Geely’s ‘Panda’: although basically a cross between a Toyota Yaris and a Fiat 500, Geely (who recently bought Volvo from Ford) has the ability to offer the product at a low price (available for about $10,900 USD, even in foreign markets like South Africa), with the added freshness of a new brand. With the right marketing ‘The Panda’ could easily claim a top-spot in the Western small-car market. In other cases, ventures into Western markets have already begun: after taking a hold on lesser-desired markets like Iran and Iraq (seriously), Chinese manufacturers, like publicly held ‘Great Wall’ have begun producing in Europe, setting up a factory in Bulgaria that’s expected to reach a production output of 70,000 vehicles by 2015.
While we’re at it, check out this amazingly expressive van.
But then again…
Despite tremendous success and growth, the road to a developed industry is paved with half-steps and misfires. Sometimes, the steals/fails are so spectacular it’s hard to not enjoy the effort. Consider the B40, built by Beijing Automotive Group (one of the original, and still, state owned Chinese car companies) is set to be released this August.
As you can see the B40 is..well, a Jeep Wrangler…err, sort of. A classic case of ‘American auto makers fears over Chinese IP theft come true’, Beijing Automotive Group and Jeep used to make cars together for the Chinese market between 2003-2008, and apparently the engine design (nevermind the body) is from designs dating back directly to those days. Meanwhile Chrysler (whose had at least 3 different Chinese partners for building the Jeep in China, but is currently importing) is set to begin production with another state owned giant – Guangzhou Automobile Group in 2014 (lesson learned? Negative).Or check out the Lifan 320, Just try to spot this design.
Of course being a young industry that caters to a market that’s worlds away from Western ones leaves room for experimentation that would be otherwise impossible. The ridiculous/amazing JN Alto by Zotye Auto, priced to go at $2,765 USD is widely believed to be the cheapest, actually drivable car on the planet (The Tata Nano, with only one side mirror and no bumper doesn’t even make the legal road requirements in China). Although the Nano is cheaper, the Alto scores points for its retro-design, which is either a genius homage to the 80s, or the cost-cutting schemes of a cunning engineer. Either way, it shatters all conceptions of post-modern auto design (the first Hipster car?).
One thing that’s astounding is the jaw dropping number of electric and hybrid cars that are either already available in China or awaiting release domestically and abroad. State owned Hafei’s electric car (the ‘Coda’) has already begun selling in California under a US-China joint venture. Although having a significantly lesser range then the Tesla Roadster (393km to 142km on a single charge), its price tag, less than half that of the Roadster, certainly seems alluring ($101,000 to $40,000).
Even more promising is the former-state owned and hilariously titled BYD Auto, which stands for, you guessed it, ‘Build Your Dreams’. All jokes aside, BYD is really building dreams (and backed by the oh-so-dreamy Warren Buffett) and has a number of impressive models awaiting the development of necessary charging infrastructure before being released in North America.
BYD’s e6, an all-electric SUV, with a price tag of $35,000 claims to have a range that’s almost comparable to the Roadster (300km on a single charge). Finally if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, check out this phantasmagorical ELECTRIC BUS (that’s right) complete with solar panels.
By Aaron R
Not automobile’d out yet? Well now you are…