x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Key players ready Chinese car makers for spotlight

Chery lead the way at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show in premiering vehicles they call a a quantum leap in quality.

An electric concept car by Chinese auto maker Chery at the Shanghai Auto Show. Peter Parks / AFP
An electric concept car by Chinese auto maker Chery at the Shanghai Auto Show. Peter Parks / AFP

A couple of interesting facts are emanating from China at the moment: posh Peking Duck restaurants are taking a big hit due to bird flu precautions, while local car manufacturers' domestic sales have also decreased. Local carmakers have seen their slice of the market drift to the international manufacturers as more affluent and better-educated Chinese opt for foreign badges on the front of their motors, with VW, Audi, Buick and GM particularly prominent.

Passenger vehicle sales in China were up 19.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year but there's a need for the locals to sell more cars outside the country, which is why we witnessed a sea change at Auto Shanghai, on till Monday and now one of the world's largest car shows (there were 2,000 exhibitors this year). Chinese firms, led by the giant Chery, premiered vehicles they claim are a quantum leap in quality. They'll be for the domestic market for sure, but will filter through to the exporters much more than in the past, especially in the Middle East.

At the show, Biren Zhou, vice president and director of the management board of Chery International, gave an insight into what the new-look manufacturer is all about.

"It's all about quality and technology with us now," he said. "We concentrate on the customer, what they need. We don't concentrate on other manufacturers. Our target is to be as big as the Japanese and the Koreans. The Japanese came with a surge in the 1960s and 1970s. Then the Koreans came with a surge in the 1980s and 1990s. Now it's us."

You'll find Chery cars in reasonable numbers in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Levante and Iran. Iraq has been grabbing them for cabs lately but now it's time to crank it up with classier cars and some proper numbers.

Chery's new compact SUV concept, the Beta 5, which could make its production debut in 2015, looks like it will be a mainstream competitor to the likes of Honda's CR-V, Mazda's CX-5, Subaru's Forester and Ford's Kuga. The styling certainly looks more contemporary than the current range, with a sporty front end, including large air intakes, sleek lines and LED daytime running lights. Chunky wheel arches and big alloys make for a good look, too.

Interestingly, equally impressive was the lineup of top-line designers and engineers on the Chery payroll, as quality becomes the watchword, along with a snazzy new company logo unveiled at the China auto gala.

Hakan Saracoglu, formerly of Porsche, has become the latest western car designer to be lured east, joining the former Ford and GM designer James Hope at Chery as it kicks in with its own styling direction. To put this in perspective, Saracoglu is best known for penning the exterior designs of the previous-generation Boxster and Cayman, as well as the 918 Spyder. In other words, he's a top "get" and these guys are just two of a growing band of expat car designers now working for Chinese companies.

There was some out-there stuff in the halls of Shanghai too, the Icona Vulcano for starters. The hybrid brute is powered by a 6.0L V12 engine, given some help by electric motors, and Icona reckons the car has the potential to reach a top speed of 350kph and scoot from 0 to 200kph in less than 10 seconds. The former Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover designer Samuel Chuffart designed it, too.

Huge show, big stands, classy reveals and the message that they're moving on from cheap and cheerful - that's been Auto Shanghai. The Chinese are tough, resolute and committed. As Kipling said: "Here lies a fool who tried to hustle the East." Those who dismiss the Chinese export product offensive, do so at their peril.

weekend@thenational.ae

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