/ Motoring

Will China’s cars take pole position?

China’s car market is now the largest in the world – 18.5m cars were sold there in 2011. And now China’s home-grown car manufacturers, such as Great Wall and Geely, are exporting cars to the UK. Will you buy them?

It should come as no surprise that carmakers flocked to the Beijing Auto Show last week to flog their wares.

And, in contrast to the shrinking European car market where we’re all downsizing to cut fuel and running costs, luxury cars are being snapped up quicker than anything else in China.

Jaguar’s sales in China were up by more than 150% in 2011, and it will soon have 125 dealerships there, compared to 90 in the UK.

And it seems the long-talked about exporting of Chinese motors to the UK is finally going to start this year too. The aptly named Great Wall Motors will be the first to land – with its Steed pick-up truck, followed by the H6 medium-sized SUV. And Volvo’s Chinese owner, Geely, will bring its Ford Mondeo-sized EC8 to our shores towards the end of 2012 too.

Comparisons to Japan and Korea

So would you be tempted by a Chinese car? Prices are likely to be temptingly low. And while some of the cars on show at Beijing were rather a mish-mash of contemporary and ancient styling, others looked just fine.

In the past year or so I’ve heard many people comparing the emerging Chinese motor industry with that of Japan, and more recently Korea.

Yes, Japan’s cars were abominable rot-boxes in the 1970s, but Japanese manufacturers soon realised they had to up their game. Now many Japanese brands grace the top slots in the Which? Car reliability surveys.

And Korea is just completing the transformation from undesirable bargain basement producer to creating some of the best looking new cars – Kia’s latest Cee’d and Sportage are just two good examples.

But I’m not sure that China’s made of the same stuff. Certainly many of the sub-standard electrical goods I’ve bought in the past decade, which ended in the dustbin far quicker than I’d have liked, were made in China. So I’m not convinced that China will be the next big thing in motoring – are you?


Yup…run-of-the-mill Japanese cars were once tinny rust buckets
almost a joke, look at their cars today, their Lexus outperformed comparable
Merc in tests carried out and cheaper too.

China is a full-fledged major industrial power and given time,
quite a bit of time I reckon, it will make cars quite if not every bit as
good as those of Germany, Japan and South Korea. And quite
likely to be cheaper too and offering value for money.

However, I wd not buy a China-made car just yet.

Hmmm. I think Great Wall Motors needs to improve their website.

They could also think about model names that might sell in the UK, though if Nissan can sell something called a Qashqai, GWM might have no problems with their current range.

My Dad tried to do some business with China. What they did was come to his factory, take pictures of various machines, buy a couple, take them back, copy them and then try and sell them back to him.

They all fell apart during the demo.

[This comment has been edited for potentially being seen as offensive. Thanks, mods.]

I have been involved in securing accommodation for Chinese students studying automotive engineering in London, so have had many conversations with these highly intelligent & motivated young people, who are all determined to return home and push China to the top of the automotive manufacturing industry.
Paid for by the Chinese government the students are expected to:
Study and get their degrees.
Visit as many auto & associated plants as they can, gleaning as much info as possible [they laughingly refer to it as spying].
Return to China and work at the governments behest for a set number of years [to repay the investment].
Copy any car designs they have studied to produce for the Chinese market.
Whilst building these copies, work on new designs for ‘Chinese’ generated cars.
The model for this effort is Japan’s success in the car market, from initially copying European / US designs to eventually competing with their own superior models.

From what I have seen they will succeed, they have 2 advantages over us, unlimited cheap labour and a complete disregard for heath and safety.

Best Golfer says:
4 May 2012

In my case it will take me, may be another 10 years, just to start thinking of buying a car Made In China. Because generally words “Made in China” represent goods of very low quality. This is from my experience of Toys Made in China, as soon as you bought them, used once, they do not work after that.

Or i might consider buying a car Made in China provided it comes with a Full 10 Years Warranty (like KIA started selling cars in the UK), has good quality material, has very cheap price, good design and on top of all that very Good Fuel Consumption.

Phil says:
4 May 2012

Whatever car you drive there’s a good chance some of the components were made in China. The version of the Honda Jazz sold in mainland europe is made in China as were the last two Bosch power tools and the Braun razor I bought. It seems the Chinese can produce the goods if properly managed and it’ll only be a matter of time before they learn to do that themselves.

par ailleurs says:
4 May 2012

I’m sure that the initial efforts will be like the old Daewoo cars from a while back. They sold because they were basic models re-jigged from old Vauxhals, were cheap, more or less reliable and came with a no frills package including fixed price and 3 years of servicing. The ordinary customer who wanted a simple bit of day to day transport and not all the bells and whistles went for it.
I know the the Chinese are ruthless entrepreneurs and will stop at nothing to sell goods the West desires. Fair enough in some ways if they can do it but I have a constantly nagging doubt about their products and that concerns the country’s despicable human rights record. I realise that I certainly have some Chinese goods in my house/car/phone but if possible can I avoid something where I do have a choice?

njr says:
4 May 2012

China has a long way to go before it hits the “western” standard for quality manufacturing but by buying companies like MG it will hasten its ascendancy. I think they could do a little better on their marque/brand naming and marketing: the Great Wall co please?!

We have a lot to owe China as is and I wish them and the other Asian nations all the best; they are now the factory of the world as Europe and North America were before them but it will be another decade or so before they start to compete efficaciously in the “high-end” market for goods and indeed services

Great Wall Motors (GWM) cars (and trucks) is IMO
quite acceptable a name like in the case of GM or GMC
motor vehicles that once held sway particularly in US/Canada
[for UK/Europe read Vauxhall/Opel], in the days when the
world’s number one -Toyota- was but a middling player
and Nissan had to resort to trading under name of Datsun
carrying less opprobrium presumably.

Great Wall is a name much in use across a wide range of
products made in China that are probably not so well known
in the West.

I reckon it will take at least a generation for their cars to make
an impact in the West and then it will initially be at the cheaper
end of the market that is already quite saturated.

MartynA says:
1 June 2012

I would give it 10 years and they will be where Kia and Hyundai are today. The point at which it will really start to go ‘right’ for them is when the cars they sell in Europe are designed by Europeans in Europe. Our cultures and tastes will reman very different.