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.
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.