/ 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.

I am quite disappointed with Chinese-manufacturer, Volvo. After 9 years from new (Volvo XC60 2011), and having serviced it religiously at the dealership, the engine seized without any notice. Volvo wrote the car off by offering to fit a new engine for £8500. The car is worth £7500. Felt completely abandoned by them as I had just spent £1000 at the annual service and another £1000 repairing several additional things in the car which the dealership suggested I should replace.

The dealer might offer a generous discount on a new car but if not, there are cheaper ways of getting your car back on the road, Bruce. An independent garage might be able to fit a reconditioned engine or ‘short engine’ (if the cylinder head is undamaged) or a secondhand engine.

Do you know why the engine seized?

I’d find a Which? recommended garage in your area and talk to them about sorting the engine out. It might be possible to rebuild it or, as wavechange suggests, buy a secondhand unit from a breakers yard or, better, a reconditioned bottom half (assuming the pistons are the problem). It should be worth repairing, but I’d avoid main dealer labour rates.

I feel that in a case like this where Bruce has diligently maintained the car and had it serviced at the right intervals by the same dealership there should be some liability on the dealership to repair the car economically. I appreciate that a seizure can occur for numerous reasons not always detectable in advance, but a premium motor like a Volvo XC60 should not seize up after nine years [subject to mileage and driving style]. It is very disappointing that Volvo appear to offer very little support in such a case. Another example of where longer warranties might be beneficial but it would be in the price.

Manufacturers offer annual warranty extensions at different levels of cover and price. With cars so complex these days they can offer peace of mind, and deal with a seized engine (providing the car has been properly maintained).

They may or may not be seen as offering good value for money; I suppose they only do for the owner if they have a failure. It would be useful if Which? explored these manufacturer-promoted warranties to see what they cost, what they cover and, through Connect and Convo for example, get user experience.

I would be surprised if Volvo or any other manufacturer would offer goodwill after nine years. I no of no cases and cannot remember any examples given here on Convo. If the dealer wants to retain a loyal customer then it might make sense to offer Bruce a generous trade-in and that is certainly worth exploring.

It is clear that the manufacturers will not offer goodwill – as Malcolm says, they sell warranty extensions – but after nine years’ loyalty and considerable expenditure on servicing and modifications, one might think the dealership owed Bruce some goodwill.

I know people who have car manufacturers to thank for goodwill, John. I am one of them. Back in 1989 I had a visit from a VW regional service manager when my car developed an engine problem when it was over three years old. A gudgeon pin had scored the wall of a cylinder due to a manufacturing defect. In these days the car was guaranteed for only one year. He authorised the main dealer to provide a new short engine and I agreed to pay for the fitting cost.

Although I have heard of manufacturers/dealers offering goodwill, are there any examples of this where a car has been owned for more than five years? I do not know of any, though it is worth pushing for a discount on a new or secondhand car.

Extended warranties are sold to make a profit, so as with extended warranties on white goods you would have to be lucky for one to be worthwhile. Peace of mind comes at a price and those who pay for them may not have read the terms and conditions to see what is excluded from cover.

Irrespective of whether nine-year old luxury cars are worthy of continued manufacturer or dealer support, Bruce has been having his car serviced and repaired for nine years exclusively by the same dealership. I just happen to think that counts for something that in a fair world would be worthy of some recognition.

I hope Bruce will be able to pursue one of the alternative, more economical, options you and Malcolm have suggested.

As I have said in the past, loyalty in commerce is a one-way street: once given you cannot take it away and reciprocation is never guaranteed.

When my old Toyota Yaris was about 10 years and 180000 miles old, it needed a new catalytic converter. To reduce the costs to a regular service customer, the dealer sold me that part at cost, which gave me a substantial saving.

That is impressive, though the dealer would still make a profit from the scrap catalytic converter.

At around 8 or 9 years old the gearbox failed on one of my cars. The car had been regularly serviced. However, I see no way the garage could have foreseen the problem arising without opening it up to check condition, and that is not a realistic service requirement. No more than stripping an engine.
I could argue that the gearbox was not sufficiently durable, just like Bruce’s engine, but it was outside the scope of the Sale of Goods Act (then) and, unfortunately, failures happen in mechanical devices. An independent garage replaced it with a reconditioned unit and, 7 years on, it still works.

Many of us have bemoaned the fact that familiar British and European manufacturers now sell products made in China and other places where costs are lower.

It’s interesting to look at this Wikipedia page that lists Chinese car manufacturers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_automobile_manufacturers_of_China#cite_note-1

The names are unfamiliar to me but further down the page I see a long list of familiar manufacturers that have links with the Chinese motor industry.