Japanese carmakers saw overseas success over sixty years ago inn the US, uprooting American manufacturers from their top positions. South Korean automotive firms keenly watched the Japanese and emulated their success in Europe and eventually the world. Fast forward to today, China finds itself in the same position.
In the summer of 1958, Toyota became the laughing stock of America when it unloaded the first Toyopet Crown into California. The jokes kept coming for another decade until the Americans realized the tiny, unassuming Crown was far more reliable and frugal than homegrown V8-powered mammoths. Suddenly, Detroit found itself at the receiving end of the same jokes directed previously at Asian manufacturers.
The humble Toyopet Crown overturned the American Big Three, paving the way for Asians in the US automotive industry
Across the Atlantic, Nissan was hard at work studying European carmakers. Kicking off its operations with a brand-new car that looked a lot like an Austin 7, Nissan is now a global force to be reckoned with. All the while, South Korean companies were quietly biding their time. Their patience paid dividends, bringing them onto the world stage.
On the basis of frugal, basic, and adequate vehicles, Hyundai can now claim to be among the world’s top ten biggest car manufacturers by sales volume. It really has come a long way from its first homegrown 1975 Pony to its present lineup. The company had famously invited a senior designer at British Leyland to show it the ropes. As of today, British Leyland has collapsed, and we need not tell you where Hyundai stands.
History tends to repeat itself, and it is now the turn of the Chinese. The country’s automotive industry started making headlines a few years ago, when copies of international cars started appearing at Beijing and Shanghai auto shows. There was the Lifan 320 which was a blatant rip-off of a Mini Cooper. The Shuanghuan SCEO looked eerily similar to the BMW X5.
As far as motorcycles are concerned, Chinese firms even lifted designs from neighbour India’s homegrown manufacturer Bajaj Auto Ltd. Taian Chiran Machinery Company Ltd. lost a court battle against the Indian firm over its Gulsar motorcycle, which was, in no uncertain terms, a Bajaj Pulsar with a slightly different name.
China is poised to spread its wings in the automotive sector worldwide, despite having started off in rather poor form.
However, these are things of the past, for the Chinese automotive industry is well and truly standing on its own feet, and even supporting international brands like MG, Borgward, Volvo and Manganese Bronze (the company that manufactures London Cabs). As many as eight different Chinese firms have a presence in the UAE. Although they only constitute one percent of the country’s total sales, achieving a bigger share is not that faraway a goal for these firms.
Chinese firms are hiring the best designers and engineers in the world to shape authentic automobiles, and the results speak for themselves. Benoit Jacob and Chris Bangle, both designers formerly working with BMW, are among the people making the move into an exciting industry. MG Motor launched the exciting new MG6 in the UAE, pitching the turbo-petrol family saloon against naturally-aspirated rivals in the segment. Chery introduced the Tiggo 5 crossover in the UAE, complete with a five-star safety rating presented by Chinese NCAP regulations.
JAC is another manufacturer witnessing a lot of traction in the compact crossover segment with its J3 that starts from AED 40,000. We haven’t mentioned firms like Haval, Changan, Geely, and Great Wall yet, so China is definitely not lacking for carmaking firms. The world’s single biggest car market (sales neared the 24-million mark in China for 2018) has easy access to new technology through its joint ventures with international brands wanting to sell their wares behind the Iron Curtain. China is also the world’s biggest EV market with 800,000 charging stations across the country serving 2.5 million electric cars.
Today, China is churning out consistently better products each passing year, improving its game across the globe.
Talking about EVs some more, who can forget the gobsmacking NIO EP9 that set a blistering new lap record on the infamous Nurburgring for electric cars? Heavyweights like Lamborghini, Porsche, and Ferrari still haven’t been able to match or beat that record. Chinese firm GAC Motor unveiled an all-electric concept car at the Detroit Motor Show, hitting the American Big Three (Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automotive) right in their backyard. Are we on the cusp of witnessing a major automobile revolution led by China?