Chinese automakers such as Great Wall, Chery and MG now have a limited presence in Europe and Russia, mostly selling small cars and pickups. This time, however, they are aiming at Europe’s fast-growing SUV segments, which are predicted to account for one-third of the European market by 2020, up from a quarter now.
Drawing on experience in their fast-paced domestic market, Great Wall and Chery possess a new-found confidence about their ability to compete with European brands both in China and on their home turf, analysts said. “The Chinese automakers were in a very nascent state [10 years ago]. They were just learning how to build cars,” Chow said. Since then they have improved their products and steadily taken market share from foreign joint-venture brands in China.
In the last decade, Chinese brands have also focused on improving quality by partnering with Tier 1 suppliers such as Robert Bosch, Dana and Valeo, names that figured prominently during their presentations in Frankfurt. In addition, they have developed efficient 1.5- to 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engines and hybrid drivetrains in anticipation of the tough China VI emissions standard, coming in 2020, which won’t require much modification to be certified in Europe, said Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight.
To be closer to the market, they have established European engineering and styling studios, and hired away top designers including Byton’s Benoit Jacob, who was responsible for the styling of the BMW i8 and i3 electric models, and James Hope, who moved to Chery after working for General Motors and Ford Motor.
High-level executives have come from German premium brands, including Jens Steingraeber, the CEO of Wey, who was product manager for the Audi Q3 crossover; Byton’s co-founder, Carsten Breitfeld, who worked at BMW’s i subbrand; and Borgward CEO Ulrich Walker, who led Daimler’s Chinese operations. Taken together, Chow said, these steps are meant to show that Chinese brands “are not inferior to any automaker in the developed markets.”