From poor re­la­tion to five-star rat­ings

Are Chi­nese ve­hi­cles qual­ity or clunkers? Lat­est crash test­ing sug­gests the new mod­els are much im­proved, writes Rob Maet­zig.

The Timaru Herald - - MOTORING -

It could be that the big­gest mo­tor­ing news story of the year has in­volved a rather in­nocu­ous an­nounce­ment – that a Chi­nese ve­hi­cle has earned a five-star safety rat­ing from the Aus­tralasian New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gramme (An­cap).

When the five stars were awarded to a medium-sized SUV called the MG GS, it be­came the first Chi­nese ve­hi­cle to get An­cap’s ul­ti­mate safety rat­ing.

This re­ally is a big deal. It tells us that af­ter years of build­ing in­fe­rior ve­hi­cles, the Chi­nese mo­tor in­dus­try is now be­gin­ning to of­fer prod­uct that in terms of qual­ity and safety is as good as ve­hi­cles from the likes of Ja­pan, South Korea and Europe.

We in New Zealand don’t get the MG GS, but it is likely we soon will.

And while none of the Chi­nese ve­hi­cles cur­rently on sale here carry the five-star An­cap rat­ing, sev­eral of the lat­est arrivals have un­der­gone their of­fi­cial crash test­ing in Aus­tralia and there’s a con­fi­dence they will re­ceive their five stars very soon.

When that hap­pens, we won’t be able to de­scribe th­ese ve­hi­cles as Chi­nese junk any more. We will have to ac­cept that they can right­fully take their place along­side prod­uct from other parts of the world.

It all un­der­lines the dra­matic growth – both in terms of num­bers and qual­ity – that China’s mo­tor ve­hi­cle in­dus­try has ex­pe­ri­enced in re­cent years.

In seem­ingly no time at all it has gone from build­ing a rel­a­tively small-vol­ume of ve­hi­cles of mainly Soviet ori­gin, around 200,000 cars a year, to what it is to­day – by far the world’s largest ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­turer.

In 2016 China built more than 28 mil­lion of them, and this year the num­ber is ex­pected to close in on 30 mil­lion. The world’s secondbiggest man­u­fac­turer, the United States, last year built just over 12 mil­lion ve­hi­cles.

At one stage between 2000 and 2010 the Chi­nese ve­hi­cle as­sem­bly in­dus­try grew at the as­ton­ish­ing rate of 21 per cent a year. But much of this growth was to meet do­mes­tic de­mand, which meant that even though many of the ve­hi­cles of the time were based on multi-na­tional de­signs, they weren’t built to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and lacked many safety fea­tures.

As a re­sult, mod­els that be­gan to be ex­ported from China to coun­tries such as New Zealand sim­ply weren’t up to scratch.

That ex­plains why most of them earned mar­ginal or poor An­cap rat­ings. It also ex­plains why Chi­nese ve­hi­cles quickly de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion in New Zealand for be­ing pretty much use­less.

But now that is rapidly chang­ing. Sev­eral of the ma­jor Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers have big plans to in­crease ex­ports to ma­jor in­ter­na­tional mar­kets in­clud­ing the US and Europe, and they are rapidly im­prov­ing the qual­ity of their prod­uct.

Here’s proof: lat­est re­search shows that whereas in 2000 Chi­nese-built ve­hi­cles av­er­aged 834 problems per 100 ve­hi­cles – dou­ble the in­ter­na­tional av­er­age – this has been re­duced to 112 problems per 100 ve­hi­cles, which is al­most on par with other ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ing coun­tries.

All this is lead­ing to New Zealand’s two big­gest im­porters of Chi­nese-built ve­hi­cles feel­ing bullish about their sales prospects.

One of them is Taupo­head­quar­tered Great Lake Mo­tor Dis­trib­u­tors (GLMD), which im­ports and dis­trib­utes LDV prod­uct – V80 and G10 vans, T60 ute, and soon a D90 seven-seater SUV.

At a re­cent func­tion in Auck­land at­tended by more than 50 Chi­nese jour­nal­ists, GLMD man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Rick Cooper fore­cast the T60 and the D90 will change New Zealan­ders’ views about Chi­nese ve­hi­cles.

‘‘We are con­fi­dent the T60 will be the first Chi­nese ve­hi­cle to get the An­cap five stars at its first at­tempt – it’s that good. And the same will hap­pen with the D90 when it is tested,’’ he said.

Cooper, a for­mer mayor of Taupo, is an en­thu­si­as­tic man. He be­came even more en­thu­si­as­tic when I asked him that if the Chi­nese prod­uct is achiev­ing par­ity with equiv­a­lent prod­uct from other coun­tries in terms of build qual­ity and spec­i­fi­ca­tion, then why does it re­main so much cheaper to buy?

‘‘You should be ask­ing why the other stuff is so ex­pen­sive,’’ he replied.

‘‘Our prices are gen­uine real prices, which means that peo­ple don’t need to be scared or con­fused by sub­stan­tial dis­counts.‘‘

The other big Chi­nese player in New Zealand is Haval, which is an SUV brand owned by the Great Wall Mo­tors group. It has just launched the small H2 and medium H6 mod­els and will launch a larger H9 in early De­cem­ber, along with a two-wheel drive H7 soft-roader in midFe­bru­ary.

Haval New Zealand chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer Tim Smith says when the brand was launched in Aus­tralia a cou­ple of years ago, the pub­lic re­sponse to the prod­uct was a lit­tle scep­ti­cal. But the aware­ness has grown, and has been boosted by a rapid im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of the prod­uct.

‘‘This im­prove­ment re­ally is rapid. You blink and some­thing’s changed. The speed the Chi­nese au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try is de­vel­op­ing is in­cred­i­ble, and a lit­tle hard for western peo­ple to com­pre­hend.’’ And the ques­tion of pric­ing? ‘‘The sim­plest an­swer is that Haval is a new brand in an ul­tra­com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, so we have to come in with very thin prices. They are no re­flec­tion at all on the qual­ity of the prod­uct.’’

An­cap is Aus­trala­sia’s lead­ing in­de­pen­dent ve­hi­cle safety ad­vo­cate.

To achieve its max­i­mum fives­tar safety rat­ing, a ve­hi­cle must meet the high­est stands in all tests, in­clud­ing crash tests, and fea­ture ad­vanced safety as­sist tech­nolo­gies.

It is sup­ported by the New Zealand Govern­ment and the New Zealand Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion.

AA mo­tor­ing ser­vices man­ager Stella Stocks says that when Chi­nese ve­hi­cles first be­gan to un­dergo An­cap test­ing, many could man­age only two stars which was un­ac­cept­able.

‘‘But now we’re cer­tainly see­ing Chi­nese ve­hi­cles im­prov­ing. But if you think back, at the start the qual­ity of Ja­panese prod­uct wasn’t good. Then the Kore­ans came in and their ve­hi­cles of­ten weren’t of high qual­ity. But now they are.

‘‘It’s a pas­sage of time. To­day, the Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers are con­scious of build qual­ity and safety re­quire­ments, and they have re­ally be­come en­gaged.’’


The Haval H6 is among an in­creas­ing num­ber of high-qual­ity ve­hi­cles now be­ing im­ported from China.


A new small SUV from China is this Haval H2.

This is the LDV D90, a sev­enseater SUV sched­uled to be launched in New Zealand early next year.

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