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It’s been a rough year for many in the car industry - from declining sales to the death of Holden - but one group is having a year to remember; Chinese carmakers.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that 2020 is shaping up as the year Australians accepted Chinese cars in significant numbers, with brands from China enjoying double-digit growth on average compared to a market that is in steep decline.
One of the reasons for the improvement is the growth of the Chinese automotive industry as a whole, with the country now home to the world’s largest car market. That has spurred companies with little history to enter the car industry in the hope of cashing in, much in the same way the USA spawned dozens of car brands approximately 100 years ago.
Names like Lifan, Roewe, Landwind, Zoyte and Brilliance will be unfamiliar to most Australians. But from this crowded market several major players have emerged and developed more recognisable brand names - Great Wall, Haval and Geely. Even MG is a Chinese car company now, with the former British brand now under the control SAIC Motors, the Chinese state-owned company that also operates LDV (under the Maxus name in China) and the previously mentioned Roewe.
With the Chinese industry on the move we’ve selected some of the most interesting vehicles to emerge from the country. While not all will make it here, the size and scope of the market means it’s home to some truly cool cars.
The Big Dog (that’s the literal translation of the name) is a new SUV from Haval that somehow manages to blend elements of the Suzuki Jimny and Toyota LandCruiser Prado.
It measures up well against the Prado, slightly shorter but offering more ground clearance, but features the kind of retro, boxy styling that makes both the Jimny and Mercedes G-wagen so popular.
No official word yet if the big dog will join Haval’s Australian line-up, but with the brand focused on SUVs and the local market with a seemingly endless desire for more it would make a sensible addition.
Haval’s sibling brand has a potential big gun for the Australian market in its new Cannon. Due to arrive before the end of 2020 (albeit with a different name) it will sit above the brand’s existing Steed ute to give the brand a more premium rival for the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
In fact, Great Wall used both the models as measuring sticks during the development of the Cannon (or whatever it will be called), which bodes well for its chances of raising the bar for what we can expect from a Chinese ute.
Dimensionally it’s on par with the Toyota and Ford, it boasts a turbo-diesel engine with similar performance (although crucially early specifications indicate it will have less torque) and should be able to take a 1000kg payload and tow up to 3000kg.
The biggest question still unanswered is the price. If Great Wall can continue its habit of undercutting its more established rivals on price while offering good value and a better built vehicle then it could be a major breakthrough for Chinese vehicles down under.
The ZS EV is a long way from the MGB roadster that made the company famous, but this compact electric SUV has big potential for the brand. It’s due to arrive later in the year, but the company made a statement when it offered the first 100 examples for just $46,990 drive-away - the cheapest EV available in Australia.
Whether the company can maintain that price beyond the first 100 sales remains unclear, but even if it doesn’t the fact the re-emerging brand will be able to offer a battery-powered compact SUV will make it rare in the Australian market. The only similar rival to the ZS EV will be the Hyundai Kona, which starts at more than $60k.
Of course MG has a rich history of making sports cars during its British period, so what better way to bridge the old with the new, modern and electrified Chinese version of the brand than an electric sports car.
It’s a huge departure from the MG3 hatch and ZS SUV, but the brand teased the idea of a sports car revival way back in 2017 with the E-Motion Concept. Recently uncovered patent images have revealed that the design has evolved, with a distinctly Aston Martin look to the four-seat coupe.
Full technical specifications are being kept under wraps until closer to the car’s 2021 launch but we do know that it’s likely to be capable of doing the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.0secs and have a driving range of up to 500km.
Nio is another relatively new Chinese carmaker (having formed in 2014) but has made a big name for itself thanks to its focus on very fast electric cars.
Nio builds EV SUVs in China but it has an international profile because it fields a team in the all-electric Formula E racing series and made headlines with its EP9 hypercar; claiming a lap record around the famous Nurburgring in 2017.
The Nio EP9 lapped the 20km German circuit in just 6:45 to demonstrate just how much performance an EV can muster. While Volkswagen knocked it off later, it required the German giant to build a purpose-built electric racing car to best the Nio.
Nio doesn’t just do electric either, it also specialises in autonomous technology and claimed a lap record for a driver-less lap of the Circuit of the Americas in 2017 as well.
Speaking of Nurburgring lap records, another Chinese brand used the German racetrack to make a statement about its ambition - Lynk & Co.
Owned by Geely, the same brand that controls Volvo, this young brand (founded in 2016) attracted plenty of attention with the Lynk & Co 03 Cyan Concept. It was designed to celebrate the brand’s entry into the World Touring Car Cup, or to put it another way, basically it was a racing car for the road.
Cyan Racing is Geely and Volvo’s official motorsport partner, although you may remember it better by its former name - Polestar. Cyan used its on-track experience to extract 393kW of power from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that sent its performance through a six-speed sequential gearbox to the front-wheels.
Unfortunately, while Geely wants Lynk & Co to be a global brand it looks some way off making it to Australia, with plans to tackle the Europe and US markets a priority.