Will Chinese cars catch up in popularity race?

Great Wall Motors
Great Wall Motor Company is China’s largest SUV and pickup manufacturer

Features Editor

Homegrown cars catch up in popularity race with British and international brands in China

It has been well documented that there has been a huge demand for luxury foreign cars in China. And a number of British brand name cars are some of the most sought after, including Aston Martins, Bentleys, Jaguars, Land Rovers and Rolls-Royces. But what makes them so desirable? And what of Chinese-made cars? How are they faring compared to their international counterparts? Is the Chinese car industry finally catching up? 

Nee Hao takes a look at the country’s car popularity race.

British cars, much like British fashion and accessory companies such as Mulberry and Vivienne Westwood, are world famous for their classic and traditional yet elegant designs. This is surely one reason why Chinese people love to look like royalty in typically longer and slender cars that most people might normally believe to be chauffeur driven such as Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. And just like many wanting to surround themselves with foreign products, having foreign cars are also a sign of being able to afford such expensive things in life. Mike Hawes from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) believes British makes have a “strong brand heritage” which attracts Chinese car lovers.

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German, American and Japanese-made cars are also very popular in China with most of the less expensive cars that sell very well usually being Volkswagen, Ford and Nissan. Luxury Italian brands like the Ferrari and Lamborghini are also favourites, as are the Austrian-made Porsche and French Bugatti showing an increase in the Chinese’s love for small and low but fast and flashy sports cars, particularly with the younger demographic.

The rise in cars being exported to China have been extremely welcome to the British car industry after MG Motor Group suffered a huge decline in the mid-2000s and went bust. Since then it has been Chinese-owned, which is probably another reason why it has experienced resurgence over the past few years. Here in the UK, sales of MG Motors are still relatively low but have been five times higher in China since 2009, taking over French cars in popularity and accounting for more than 11.2% of British exports – a new record.

But in recent years, China has come under criticism for their alleged rip-off cars that look incredibly similar to some famous Western-made ones such as the Range Rover, Smart Car and Hummer. While many in the car industry were understandably angered by the incident and some even looked to sue for copyright infringement, it at least offered less wealthy Chinese citizens the chance to afford them. For example, the Chinese version of the normally £40,000 plus Range Rover – called the LandWind X7 – would cost only a mere £14,000 to buy.

And now it appears “Made by China” cars like those manufactured by Great Wall Motors and other companies are gradually catching up with international brands. Recent figures show that, possibly partly due to being cheaper, the demand for home brand cars is on the up while international ones have seen a slight decline in sales – the first time in a few years. For example, Chinese-made SUVs are becoming even more popular than international brands with six of the ten best-selling SUVs in the first half of this year being Chinese. Other potential reasons besides value for money include familiarity with local brands and nationalist instincts but there is no concrete answer to explain the latest increase.

In the UK, the British Chinese population is well documented as being one of the highest earning ethnic groups in the country and research has shown that people of Asian, Arab and East Asian descent in Britain are three times more likely to own a luxury car, so you’ll probably be more surprised to see a Chinese person here driving a standard car than an expensive one. In comparison, attempts and expectations made by Great Wall Motors, Geely, Dongfeng Motor Corporation and SAIC – four of China’s biggest companies – to enter the British car sales market in 2012 failed to take off.

So what’s in store for the future of British cars and China? Will any Chinese car brands begin to gain momentum over here like Huawei phones? This may be highly unlikely and British cars may not ever be as popular here as they once were, but they can at least count on interest from China, even with rival homegrown brands to compete with. This could also mean that Britain has the potential to finally overtake Germany, whose popular BMW car company reported a drop in profits after sales in China fell in the April-June quarter only a few days ago.

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