THE talk of the industry the whole of last week has been of the latest crop of Chinese cars at the Shanghai Motor Show.
Chinese cars were once the butt of jokes, bargain basement items that people did their best to steer clear of.
Not anymore, it seems.
More than 1,000 companies peddled their wares at Shanghai, and a great deal of them were home grown entities that have been pushing hard with quality products and good design.
A cursory glance at their booths reveals how far their efforts have taken them.
Yes, there are still shameless copies like the Landwind X7, the infamous copy of the Range Rover Evoque.
And the BAIC BJ80 PHEV does look suspiciously like a Mercedes G-Wagen.
But smattered among the cheap(er) knockoffs are some brilliant original cars, many of them EV, others ‘internet cars’ or cars with sophisticated internet integration, proof that China’s automotive industry is a hotbed of aspiring new talent ready to make their mark in the global arena.
The Lynk & Co 01 is a case in point. Co-developed with Volvo, which is owned by Geely, the car was launched along with a new app-based sharing service that lets owners share the car with friends and family. This may pave the way to a subscription model where customers drive the cars by using a smartphone as the key.
Lynk & Co will also sell their cars online , instead of using conventional dealerships.
Nio, the electric car manufacturer that gained viral famedom when its video of the Nio EP9 setting a new Nürburgring electric car lap record last year, has an almost production ready car known as the Nio ES8.
China loves SUVs and the ES8, which is a Range Rover size SUV that seats seven is a well-proportioned behemoth that is both well designed, and built.
Aside from the fancy brands, more familiar brands like Chery, Haval and BYD as well as a plethora of other Chinese manufacturers displayed numerous cars that are just too many to list here.
But taking a closer look at these cars, running your finger along the panel gaps and the soft touch materials used in this new wave of Chinese vehicles, it was hard not to be impressed.
The Shanghai Motor Show, held biennially, is one of the biggest motor shows in the world.
Held in the massive halls of the National Exhibition and Convention Centre, the exhibition, which closed on Friday seemed to mark a turning point, signalling China’s readiness to take on the world.
Domestically, the Chinese automotive industry has been growing at an immense rate.
In 2009, China’s car sales beat American car sales for the first time, with analysts saying pent up middle class demand was finally being met as the Chinese became prosperous enough to buy their own cars.
Last year, China’s automotive market truly became a juggernaut, with 24 million passenger cars sold.
Currently, there are more cars sold per annum in China than anywhere else on earth.
The automotive industry is dominated by the big four, namely SAIC, Dongfeng, FAW, and Chang’an.
SAIC alone sold 6.4 million cars last year, with a year-on-year growth of 9.6 per cent.
Malaysia, with its fedgling automotive industry, should take note of the rapidly growing Chinese auto industry.
The two top local manufacturers, Perodua and Proton each hold 40 per cent and 14 per cent of the local automotive market. Even with 40 per cent of the market, Perodua sold 207,110 cars last year, a far cry from the top manufacturer in China. Proton’s share? At 14 per cent of the market, it sold 72,290 cars.
Malaysia’s Total Industry Volume, at 514,545 passenger cars will never rival China’s gargantuan home auto market.
But what we should be concerned about is how China is now beginning to gear their production towards exports, instead of just their home market. China is ready to take on the world.
Here at home, the Malaysian automotive manufacturing scene seems to be floundering, with no solid plans to export or capture foreign markets.
There was a time when Malaysian cars sold well in foreign markets like the UK and Australia, but sadly this is no longer true. Now China is surging forward. Are we going backwards?
Only time will tell.