How do you say VROOOM! in Chinese?
July 11, 2010 5:53 PM   Subscribe

China's enigmatic car industry. Did you know that China is the biggest car manufacturer in the world? 'Last year China overtook Japan as the world's biggest carmaker'. Did you know that China is the biggest car market in the world? 'This year it overtook America as the biggest car market'. Can you name any Chinese car brands? What constitutes a Chinese car brand? Volvo started out Swedish, was bought by Ford, and then sold to a Chinese company. But are Chinese brands merely copy cats? Not at all. 'In technology, one Chinese company is already ahead. With triumphant music, billowing smoke and a troupe of flamboyant dancers in white quasi-military uniforms, BYD launched its latest car, powered by a battery design so revolutionary that Warren Buffet, America's most famous investor, has put $250m (£170m) into the company.'

So how soon might we be buying Chinese cars, just as we are buying Chinese electronics, clothes, tools, and thousands of other categories of manufactured goods? Perhaps sooner than you thought.

'But there was one last puzzle, why so few of the Chinese-branded cars are now exported.
Back at the highway by Tiananmen Square, Rick Hall had an explanation for that.
"There's so much demand for cars inside China now," he told me, "the new makers don't need to export.
"But just you wait until they decide to, which won't be long. Then you're going to see some real competition".
In Australia that process has already begun because last year Rick started importing Chinese-branded vehicles for the first time. And, he says, his customers love them.'

Previously.
posted by VikingSword (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I thought the primary thing preventing Chinese cars from entering the US market was that they didn't meet US safety requirements.
posted by luvcraft at 5:56 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may be thinking of the Indian Tata Nano car.
posted by VikingSword at 6:02 PM on July 11, 2010


Yeah, the obscenely bad crash tests will need to be dramatically improved before Chinese auto manufacturers can hope to enter the US or European markets. The issue is briefly addressed in the second link, but I got the impression that while Brilliance was able to pass "a number of tests," I suspect the implication is that they haven't yet passed all of them.
posted by jedicus at 6:08 PM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a huge Southeast Asia market for Chinese cars. Here in Manila, Chery has a number of dealerships. But don't count on seeing one in US neighborhoods anytime soon - their cars still have a number of quality issues that need addressing. A friend of mine went to check a car out, and the demo unit's door fell off when it was opened.
posted by micketymoc at 6:09 PM on July 11, 2010


Christ, I remember being in France back in 1987, standing outside the Louvre, of all places, when some American predicted that we were on the edge of greatness, with 1 billion Chinese people thirsty and anxious to buy American cars.

Dumbass.
posted by vhsiv at 6:12 PM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was in China 6 years ago, and for some reason Buick was the only American brand able to get any traction. For some reason, the Chinese associate Buick with endurance and dependability -- more than Ford, more than GM, even though Buick is a GM product.
posted by vhsiv at 6:17 PM on July 11, 2010


Fuel efficiency might be a factor what with the weight of lead paint.
posted by hal9k at 6:17 PM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Christ, I remember being in France back in 1987, standing outside the Louvre, of all places, when some American predicted that we were on the edge of greatness, with 1 billion Chinese people thirsty and anxious to buy American cars.

::cough::
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:22 PM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The wikipedia page on the Chinese car industry is interesting.

It is worth noting that Chinese brands are only 44% of the output of China's car industry. Foreign brands are still the majority. China doesn't export many cars either, most are for domestic consumption.

Also check the section on the wikipedia page on the Chinese copying foreign cars to the extent that the parts are interchangeable. This holds up in China, but if those companies tried to sell those cars where the courts were more neutral the outcome may well be different.
posted by sien at 6:25 PM on July 11, 2010


Volkswagen?

(Been to China four times so far; this is by far the most common car on the road.)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:26 PM on July 11, 2010


Ah yes...now I remember what ate Detroit: China.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:27 PM on July 11, 2010


(That was in answer to "Can you name any Chinese car brands?")
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:28 PM on July 11, 2010


In Dakar a friend was driving a Chinese SUV with a make of Great Wall.
posted by Nothing at 6:42 PM on July 11, 2010


Tiger Trucks actually opened a big plant in Oklahoma, and exports the products made there to other first world countries as well as sell them to the military and other branches of the US Government that needs little runabouts. They couldn't meet minimal GSA quality standards until they did.

Sometimes, the cheapest workforce isn't the best.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:54 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chinese car brands drove me crazy while I was there, typical conversation:

Me: What kind of car is that?
Chinese Colleague: A Chinese brand
Me: I know! Does it have a name?
Chinese Colleague: --silence--
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:56 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Changfeng?

Seriously, that's the first one that came to mind.
posted by axiom at 7:03 PM on July 11, 2010


So... why was there just silence? They were embarrassed to name the brand around a non-Chinese person?
posted by No-sword at 7:04 PM on July 11, 2010


I could see certain niche markets (super cheap, safe, eco-friendly small cars) being fulfilled to build brand recognition and loyalty that could segue into other segments with greater competition. It would definitely take time with the ebb and flow of the American market- given the comparative complexity of vehicle ownership vs the more disposable nature of portable electronics, clothing, tools, etc.

Real ingenuity, unique yet proven technology, reliable quality control would also be key. Given my experience with certain products both designed and produced in China, that may take some time. Sooner the better- competition is a good driving force for us as consumers.

Also.
posted by liquoredonlife at 7:15 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


So... why was there just silence? They were embarrassed to name the brand around a non-Chinese person?

I suspect it was that until recently there were just so many car brands in China that differentiating them or even identifying them was pointless. While some companies have been trying to promote brand identity, generally speaking the quality of Chinese marketing campaigns is crap. This is fine though, because many of the products of the Chinese auto industry are so abysmal that if people COULD correctly identify the vehicles in question it might actually drive sales down.

(I still remember brand new Beijing taxis that would spray water on the driver if he tried to turn on the AC).
posted by 1adam12 at 7:23 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


On safety standards ->

http://www.themotorreport.com.au/50233/vwpolo-awarded-5-star-ancap-crash-safety-rating-hybrid-camry-and-great-wall-x240-get-4-stars

Summary of link: Last year, China's first entrant into the Australian market scored 2/5 stars for safety (ANCAP, similar test to NCAP in Europe). 2/5 stars is pretty much bottom of the barrel.

In less than 12 months, Great Wall had released an update to that vehicle that retested at 4/5 stars. This is equal to the Toyota Camry line of cars - a truly remarkable achievement in such a short space of time.

It's true that domestic demand in China is very strong: I went there for business / holiday some months back, and took a 4 day tour through some popular tourist nature reserve: in the entire 4 days there, amongst the tens of thousands of people thronging the sites, the only non-asian person I saw was an engineer tending to this crazy high cable car setup. Tourism there, unlike virtually any other country, was entirely fuelled by internal demand. Almost no tour guides spoke english because 99.9% of their customers were local chinese.

The Chinese seem to have built an entirely self contained universe for themselves: their own cars, tourist destinations etc that no one in the rest of the world seems to know about. The whole time I was there, marvelling at their incredible roads, subways, trains, skyscrapers... I thought, this is what you can build when the government owns everything (all land effectively belongs to the government) so it can build whatever it wants, anywhere it wants, and has unlimited labour to do so. One of my friends there on business said that he struck up a conversation with a road sweeper at a coffee shop eating breakfast and asked him about his job - he said that he used to be a farmer, then the government "gave him a new job" in the city. Or that time when this friend was inspecting a factory, and was told that the factory wouldn't be there in a few months - the entire town was being relocated elsewhere and rebuilt, but was assured that that the factory would be "the same".
posted by xdvesper at 7:31 PM on July 11, 2010


BYD started out as a battery company. After buffet invested they switched to making cars. And the stock price has gone up something like 500% since then (and this was post-crash, since mid 2008)
posted by delmoi at 7:37 PM on July 11, 2010


Until 2008, this is what BYD's logo looked like. They had to change it, obviously.
posted by zsazsa at 8:08 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What do you mean, might soon be able to buy them? There was a Great Wall Motors x240 advertised in our local shopping centre last week. I'm genuinely considering one. But will more likely get a four year old Kia.
posted by wilful at 8:09 PM on July 11, 2010


"Until 2008, this is what BYD's logo looked like. They had to change it, obviously."

I don't see why. What am I missing?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:23 PM on July 11, 2010


I don't see why. What am I missing?

It is the BMW logo, with 2 panes of silver and blue instead of 4.
posted by clearly at 8:26 PM on July 11, 2010


silver white
posted by clearly at 8:27 PM on July 11, 2010


Ah. I saw the similarity there but I also was thinking Ford with the oval shape.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:30 PM on July 11, 2010


generally speaking the quality of Chinese marketing campaigns is crap

Oh yeah? "American ยท SHENGDIYAGE" disagrees!
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 8:38 PM on July 11, 2010


This has been coming for quite some time. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but the US has been bollocks about anticipating and preparing for a new style of world economy. Perhaps it's because all of the "preparing" has been left in the hands of self-interested corporations out for the best quarterly results.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:14 PM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


One company having innovative battery tech does not mean the others aren't or haven't been copying.

That aside, is this not typical of countries developing products for exports?

The first Japanese cars sold here were dire, or at least designed for the domestic market and not suitable.

The first Korean cars sold here were simply dire. My memory is that when Consumer Reports tested the first Hyundai sold in the USA, it recommended that people either find a way to buy more expensive car or buy a used Corolla. Now, Hyundais are competitive with cars from other countries--if not better.

Stands to reason that Chinese cars--which were panned hard when they were first exported to Europe--will get better.
posted by ambient2 at 10:28 PM on July 11, 2010


ambient2: The first Korean cars sold here were simply dire. My memory is that when Consumer Reports tested the first Hyundai sold in the USA, it recommended that people either find a way to buy more expensive car or buy a used Corolla. Now, Hyundais are competitive with cars from other countries--if not better.

We inherited a 2005 Hyundai, and if I were going to buy one with my own money, I would absolutely buy an older Honda or Toyota to make the price point match, versus a new Hyundai or Kia. It isn't even the entry level Hyundai, but everything about it is incredibly cheap, from the center console cup holder cover that is pressure-sensitive enough to practically open from the AC breeze to the "chrome" plastic crap on the inside door handles that is peeling off into horrid sharp jaggies, to the outside door handles that have so much play in them they could damn near do tap. It's a mid-range (for the maker) 5 year old, second owner car, and I've definitely been in cars three times its age that felt less worn.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:22 PM on July 11, 2010


I've seen a couple of Great Wall pick-ups driving in central Sydney (right near China town where I work), but they are rare enough a sight that I notice them. I have never heard of anyone knowing anyone who bought one.
The Aussie customers might love them, but I suspect they could all fit in a school bus to discuss their admiration of the brand.
posted by bystander at 11:42 PM on July 11, 2010


That aside, is this not typical of countries developing products for exports?

Nah, they leave the markets "open," but add taxes and tariffs to the foreign products, and force them to go through additional, more rigorous and expensive testing with bullshit excuses like "for the safety of our citizens!"

Later on they offer foreign companies an "easier" way into their local markets: instead of trying to sell your foreign brand, which you know you won't be able to do without lots of bullshit & bribes just to keep the lights on and the water running—or—you can just license the technology to one of our local firms. They'll build it for you, it's under their name, and you get a cut without having to do anything! (Oh, except, teach & train us how to do everything because we can't do it ourselves because we haven't put the decades of emphasis on the free exchange and flow of ideas like you lot).

And of course, we greedy, short-sighted fucking idiots fall for it every. single. time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:50 AM on July 12, 2010


This has been coming for quite some time. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but the US has been bollocks about anticipating and preparing for a new style of world economy. Perhaps it's because all of the "preparing" has been left in the hands of self-interested corporations out for the best quarterly results.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:14 AM on July 12


More, please?
posted by vhsiv at 5:02 AM on July 12, 2010


Wait, wait, Civil_Disobedient. Who are the Americans, and who are the Japanese and Koreans in your story?
posted by ryanrs at 5:46 AM on July 12, 2010


If you can see past the sometimes too-precious writing, Peter Hessler's Country Driving is a fascinating account of the effects of the burgeoning car culture in China, including many funny details of the driving tests and driving schools. One school insisted that their students only ever start the car in 2nd gear -- since it's harder to do that than start in 1st gear, the thought was that the students would be better drivers...
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:26 AM on July 12, 2010


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